Napoleonic Wars Forum

The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

For general discussions on the Armies of the Napoleonic period.

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby unclearthur » May 1st, 2016, 9:49 pm

Janner's done my job for me! :D

It wasn't the cavalry that were the problem, it was their command.

Beresford failed to advance his cavalry reserve at Campo Mayor and subsequently ordered Long to watch Soult at Albuera - with his back to the river! This was apparently countermanded by an ADC but Long still suffered criticism for making a perfectly sensible decision to hold on the bank the same side as his own field army. Maguilla - well, Slade did let his men go too far but his major fault appears to be blaming everyone but himself. If he'd held his hands up I doubt the level of criticism he received from Wellington would have been anything like it was. Axbridge led the Household Brigade at Waterloo instead of controlling the reserve and later admitted his fault. Like Ney he seems to have been a superb rearguard commander but less assured in attack, Sahagun and Benevente notwithstanding.

In my view Talavera was another action riddled with senior command errors. The ground could not have been reconnoitred beforehand or the ditch would have been spotted. I'm amazed it wasn't noticed from the allied position on the overlooking heights, but there you are. Colonel Elley was apparently riding ahead to show the 23rd the line of advance but he couldn't have been that far ahead as those behind were at the ditch just as he turned to shout a warning. And if he'd seen the French were in square, why didn't he turn away and break off the attack? It was well known at the time that unsupported cavalry were unlikely to break steady infantry squares, and once they'd seen cavalry ahead Ruffin's men would probably not have advanced any further so a demonstration would have done the job.

The KGL's reputation was enhanced here since their extremely low casualty figures suggest they broke off their charge, more to the left where the ditch was shallower (or narrower depending on source). Very sensible. But I've no idea why they should be considered any better in battle than British regiments - don't forget that if it wasn't for one dying horse we could easily be talking about the 'massacre at Garcia Hernadez'.

On such small strokes of luck do major battles turn. And historians' opinions, too :lol:
User avatar
unclearthur
Veteran Member
 
Posts: 703
Joined: February 11th, 2012, 3:42 pm
Location: South Wales

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 2nd, 2016, 12:28 am

Ah the cavalry in Iberia, where to start, or finish indeed! Luckily Janner and unclearthur have as usual picked out the crux of the matter. IE too few officers of command rank in the British cavalry treated horse warfare as a science. Second to that is the interesting difference of structure, the French were of the opinion that the British placed their officers in the wrong places, which prevented them adequately controlling their men. Wellington felt something similar was up and highlighted that the cavalry had too few thinking officers, men who failed to properly assess a situation before charging towards it.

Out of this we can see a few major points.

First, the British cavalry have a rather checkered reputation in the Napoleonic Wars. I don't think there is any doubt.
Second their commanders are essentially to blame rather than the deficiency of drill, skill or training.
Third, given this it is always surprising to see, as Andrew noted a while back, that the French never really managed to show them up, rather the British always tended to trip at the moment of glory.
Fourth, Was Wellington being deliberately prejudiced to the cavalry?

The first and second points have essentially been answered, and they are fairly fluid in the way we can interpret them.
The third is interesting to me because the French cavalry in Spain don't usually get a close look. I am suspicious that many of the glorious actions gone wrong that the British cavalry trumpet about, were seen as French successes. At Vimiero, Talavera, Campo Mayor and even Waterloo we must allow for the fact that although at first the French were driven back and great damage sustained, the Emperor's cavalry were always available to counterattack. In cavalry warfare were a commander should expect his first line to either be repulsed by enemy reserves or halted so as to reform, with this expectation his second line will be able to continue the charge... And so on, much of success on the battlefield goes to who handles his reserves the best. The French unquestionably were able to do this on many occasions, and it cannot be denied that opportunism and taking advantage of an enemy in distress or one who is fumbling is a characteristic of talented troops. The British use of reserve cavalry by comparison is fairly abysmal unless commanded by the handful of talented commanders that they possessed. (And even Uxbridge failed to ensure his reserves acted properly at Waterloo.)

In this sense Wellington, as (I think) he usually was (except in regards the artillery perhaps), was quite accurate and not being petty when he vented about his reckless but surprisingly effective cavalry (in the first charge). Now and then that anger for right or wrong fell on the nearest unit for an example, but on the whole it may be time to let him off the hook judgement wise. French dragoon regiments from Spain were noted for their toughness and effectiveness in other theatres.

The Kings Germans are an interesting study, Wellington seemingly prefered them or thought them more reliable than the Regular Line regiments, and in truth their record as apart to their comrades in arms does suggest a higher level of professionalism. Yet given they were trained and equipped the same way it does indicate that the raw materials were not the problem.

Josh.
Adventures In Historyland, Keeping History Real. http://adventuresinhistoryland.wordpress.com/
User avatar
Josh&Historyland
Senior Veteran Member
 
Posts: 1825
Joined: March 2nd, 2013, 1:14 pm

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby jf42 » May 2nd, 2016, 6:42 am

I should like to know more about George Anson. Where would be the best place to start? Peninsular cavalry is a blank page for me.
User avatar
jf42
Senior Veteran Member
 
Posts: 1247
Joined: June 23rd, 2011, 10:17 am
Location: United Kingdom

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby jf42 » May 2nd, 2016, 7:07 am

I have, coincidentally, been dipping into the Siborne 'Waterloo Letters' and a found these comments from Anglesey (Uxbridge) illuminating:

"After the overthrow of the Curiassiers I had in vain attempted to stop my people by sounding the Rally, but neither voice nor trumpet availed; so I went back to seek the support of the 2nd Line, which unhappily had not followed the movements of the Heavy Cavalry.

Had I when sounded the Rally, found only four well-formed squadrons coming steadily along at an easy trot, I feel certain the loss the first line suffered when they were finally forced back would have been avoided....

...I committed a great mistake in having myself led the attack. The carriere begun, the leader is no better than any other man; whereas if I had place myself at the head of the 2nd line, there is no saying what great advantage might not have accrued from it. I am the less pardonable in having deviated from a principle I had laid down for myself, that I had already suffered from a similar error at Irtragu [?].
.."


https://archive.org/stream/waterloolett ... 0/mode/2up
Waterloo letters : a selection from original and hitherto unpublished letters bearing on the operations of the 16th, 17th, and 18th June, 1815, by officers who served in the campaign (1891

In the Letters there are numerous accounts of senior officers, regimental and staff, of the Union brigade attempting in vain to control their men ( and junior officers) in order to prevent the debacle they saw unfolding. What are we observing here: a failure of command, a deficiency in 'command and control', and 'fog of war', lack of adequate training, momentary indiscipline on the part of the troops due to lack of inexperience?
Last edited by jf42 on May 3rd, 2016, 9:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
jf42
Senior Veteran Member
 
Posts: 1247
Joined: June 23rd, 2011, 10:17 am
Location: United Kingdom

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby janner » May 2nd, 2016, 8:18 am

Given that the action at Campo Mayor is the source of Wellington's 'Galloping at Everything' comment, it is certainly well worth more consideration than it has received on occasion. Indeed, it is a prime example of why Oman should be treated with caution. A broader review of the source material indicates that Beresford's report, on which Wellington based his damning remark, was inaccurate at best. At unclearthur writes, but for Beresford countermanding Long's instructions given to the Heavy Brigade, he would have gained a memorable British victory that day. It was a lesson well-learnt by Beresford though, as the subsequent success at Los Santos demonstrates.

Returning to Talevera, I would argue that Ascon's Brigade acted as (the then still) Wellesley required. He almost certainly understood the likely outcome of sending a two regiment light cavalry brigade against a steady infantry force supported by artillery and horse. Moreover, as Ruffin's force was backed by two regiments of light cavalry, I am not convinced that a demonstration would have been sufficient to halt the attack. Indeed, Wellesley was to single out Anson's brigade in his post battle thanks to commanders. In his letter to Castlereigh of 29 July 1809 he stated, 'although the 23rd dragoons suffered considerable loss, the charge had the effect of preventing the execution of that part of the enemy's plan'. Given Wellesley's penchant for criticising his cavalry, it is incongruous, I suggest, that he chose not to do so again here.
Stephen
User avatar
janner
Participating Member
 
Posts: 162
Joined: May 17th, 2015, 8:44 pm
Location: Odense, Denmark

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 2nd, 2016, 9:44 am

Uxbridge blamed himself for the debacle at Waterloo. It is true that one could read that there was an inherent discipline problem in the British cavalry. Certainly inexperienced regiments played a role in the loss of control. The greys were supposed to be brigade reserve for instance.

I personally have not found much in the galloping at everything statement that was not accurate the specific event.

Josh.
Adventures In Historyland, Keeping History Real. http://adventuresinhistoryland.wordpress.com/
User avatar
Josh&Historyland
Senior Veteran Member
 
Posts: 1825
Joined: March 2nd, 2013, 1:14 pm

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby janner » May 2nd, 2016, 10:34 am

Josh&Historyland wrote:I personally have not found much in the galloping at everything statement that was not accurate the specific event.

Josh.


Slade was a liability.
Stephen
User avatar
janner
Participating Member
 
Posts: 162
Joined: May 17th, 2015, 8:44 pm
Location: Odense, Denmark

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby unclearthur » May 2nd, 2016, 1:08 pm

janner wrote: Given Wellesley's penchant for criticising his cavalry, it is incongruous, I suggest, that he chose not to do so again here.


Fair point. But if he had it implicitly meant criticising his commanders. Whether he directly ordered an advance or had ordered his subordinate to charge 'if an opportunity arose', and there seem to be two versions of events, what happened was exactly what he subsequently complained about - they went too far. And Wellesley was back in the centre, too far away to affect events on his left and probably too busy shoring up his defence there. Later in the campaign he stopped one charge at infantry squares so maybe he was trying his luck? After all, the use of a two-deep infantry line flew in the face of conventional wisdom.

I'm not sure the fact the French had some cavalry support would have made any difference. Across the valley they would probably have seen Fane's 3rd and 4th dragoons reserve move forward even if Albuquerque's cavalry weren't visible round the back of the hill. Plus Bassecourt's infantry division were on the hillside opposite, distant but given such dry conditions the French must have seen them moving into position earlier.

That's a lot of potential opposition for troops who had already been in action several times in the preceding 24 hours.
User avatar
unclearthur
Veteran Member
 
Posts: 703
Joined: February 11th, 2012, 3:42 pm
Location: South Wales

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby janner » May 2nd, 2016, 2:23 pm

I'd submit that Wellesley had a tendancy to be ungenerous in criticising his subordinates, such as Thomas Picton after Roncesvalles in 1813. So, again, I'm not convined that he's have held off if he thought either Anson or the 23rd LDs deserving of censure.

It was certainly a complex situation and is problematic if chosen to support an argument about the British cavalry's supposed lack of control.
Stephen
User avatar
janner
Participating Member
 
Posts: 162
Joined: May 17th, 2015, 8:44 pm
Location: Odense, Denmark

Re: Hussards vs chasseurs a cheval

Postby TheBibliophile » May 2nd, 2016, 5:40 pm

Senarmont198 wrote:It isn't denigration if it is factual-it just is...

Depends on your point of view.
From all I have read, British cavalry was not inferior to the French in uniforms, weapons or training. You would probably suggest that they were.
As has already been pointed out by others, the problem was the leadership. Nothing more, nothing less.
In fact, I would argue that British horses were better than French horses.
User avatar
TheBibliophile
Veteran Member
 
Posts: 777
Joined: February 1st, 2012, 9:39 pm
Location: Sunderland, UK

PreviousNext

Return to The Armies

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest