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Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

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Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby indigo1948 » July 11th, 2015, 10:48 pm

How do members rate the charge of Kellerman's 800 cuirrassiers, the 8th and 11th cuirrassiers, at Quatre Bras when compared with other epic cavalry charges throughout history? Kellerman leads roughly 800 of his elite cuirrassiers into about 20,000 Allied troops and literally breaks through to the cross-roads of Quatre Bras. This had to be a suicidal endeavor that actually worked but was not supported. Is this the greatest cavalry charge in the annals of great charges? I find it hard to envision another charge that could surpass this one for sheer "against all odds" success.
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 11th, 2015, 11:27 pm

It's certainly good to draw attention to this attack, however I'd not rate it exceptionally high in the annals of great charges.
My reasons are pretty much because it failed and as far as QB goes Pire's effort was overall much more successful.
I'll admit it was the most impressive charge of the day, but not of the wars, for if we are to talk about grand outnumbered & ultimately defeated cavalry charges then it is overshadowed by Waterloo.

We should examine a few things about this charge. The first being that it was outnumbered but I'm not sure it was up against 20,000 men. At most it essentially engaged 2 & a half infantry brigades, in a piecemeal fashion riding through one battalion & then rushing at anything else in sight.
Then let's look at why it had It's early success. Realistically it was because the allies had virtually no cavalry formed to counter it. Kellerman was therefore able to ride at will around the area in front of the crossroads and fix enemy infantry in place until he lost so many men that he had to fall back.

It was brave & indeed impressive but was a tactical error, designed only to buy time or by some miracle do the impossible. Murat at Eylau, the other Kellerman at Marengo achieved more, so indeed did the lancers at Albuera doing more havoc with less men. In terms of outnumbered heroic disasters Waterloo takes the prize for me. The capture of the great redoubt at Borodino, an impossible triumph against the odds would rate higher in my book.
This was a French charge of the light brigade, glorious but not war.

That's just my own opinion of course.
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Senarmont198 » July 12th, 2015, 10:34 am

Kellermann's charge at Quatre Bras was ordered by Ney as Kellermann reached the field with his leading brigade, the rest of the cavalry corps being to the rear, probably still in Frasnes. Kellermann argued the point, was overruled, and charged from the halt without going through the usual steps of gradual increase in speed.

Ney did not support the attack which doomed it to failure in the long run, but the charge was still spectacular and reached the crossroads before falling apart with heavy losses.

Kellermann's charge at Marengo was different as Kellermann picked the time to launch with a definite target in mind. That didn't happen at Quatre Bras. Further, at Marengo, Kellermann had been engaged against Austrian cavalry successfully during the day and was not freshly arrived as at Quatre Bras.

The most spectacular charge of the period, which was successful, was the charge of the 3d Squadron of the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra in 1808. The squadron charged up a mountain pass in a column of fours and overran four successive batteries of Spanish artillery losing about half their strength (the squadron had about 150 all ranks) and all of the officers were either killed or wounded in the charge. The squadron was commanded at the end of the action by a wounded lieutenant who made it to the top of the pass and was awarded the Legion of Honor by Napoleon after the action. He also wrote an excellent account of the action which contradicts de Segur's more fanciful account. De Segur participated in the charge and was wounded in action. The Poles were also supported by other Guard cavalry while engaged in the pass, where Kellermann at Quatre Bras was not supported at all.
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 12th, 2015, 11:14 am

So strange that a cavalryman like Ney made such a mistake.
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Senarmont198 » July 12th, 2015, 11:38 am

Ney was a competent corps commander and was not always successful. I would suggest that being a light cavalry NCO had little or nothing to do about his overall competence.

His initial performance at Friedland in 1807 where his first assault against the Russians resulted in most of his corps being routed. He did make up for that after rallying his corps and leading the second attack after French artillery had slaughtered the Russian center.

And his performance at Bautzen and on the Berlin front in 1813 also reflect the idea that he was competent with about 10,000 men but usually forgot about troops under his command when they were out of reach or sight.
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 12th, 2015, 1:22 pm

Well yes, that's sensible but, even a light cavalry NCO should have been able to seen how this would go.
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Andrew » July 12th, 2015, 4:33 pm

I think context is important here. I don't believe Ney really felt that the charge would succeed, but he had been receiving ever-more urgent demands from Napoleon directing him to march onto the right-rear of the Prussians at Ligny to turn their defeat into a rout. What was worse, he had just received news that d'Erlon was on his way towards Ligny and would not be available to him at Quatre Bras. Ney's only uncommitted troops were Kellerman's two cuirassier regiments (Guiton's brigade); if he was going to do anything, it could only be to launch this last resource, which he did.

Although it had no chance of forcing Wellington off the crossroads, let's not forget that it destroyed the 2/69th and captured one of its colours, effectively routed the 33rd and 73rd and some horsemen actually got to Quatre Bras itself. It did launch itself into the midst of well over 20,000 men, even if it did not come into contact with all of them. Better support from Pire and the French infantry may have achieved more, but Ney did not hold the attack back a little in order to co-ordinate this.

Ney certainly had the reputation for being rash and there are certainly more examples of it than Senarmont offers us (Jena and Craonne spring to mind).

I'm not sure the charge rates as one of the greatest in our period, mainly because it was on such a small scale, but it was certainly 'against all odds'; it is no wonder that Kellerman effectively launched them without briefing them on what they were going to do!!
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 12th, 2015, 4:55 pm

Yes, I agree that Ney must have known how it would go. This was nothing short of a bid to gain time and ground, a charge of the "heavy brigade" if ever there was one.
I'm still uncertain how we get the number 20,000, it seems too much as they did not engage that many men nor were they fired on by that many men. I might say that the flight of the 33rd & 73rd is somewhat tempered by the resolute stand of the 30th regiment which was in front of them. Artillery fire broke these battalions as much as the Cuirassiers.

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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby indigo1948 » July 13th, 2015, 8:15 pm

Thank you for the feedback. I concur that Ney was rash (not unusual for him at this stage of his career) in ordering the charge but he was under increasing pressure from Napoleon and I believe that his frustration led him to a "charge and trample them underfoot" move that really had no chance of succeeding. My thought is that from a sheer "odds" attack it was remarkable for what it obtained in terms of ground gained and has to rank as one of the great moments of this battle.
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Re: Kellerman's Charge at Quatre Bras

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 13th, 2015, 9:38 pm

I agree Indie. I think it is fair to say that it was the greatest charge of the battle. Though Piré's should not be discounted. French mounted superiority in this action allowed them to dominate the field. Had not Wellington continually staved off the French infantry with newly arrived troops an all arms Attack would have doubtless taken the crossroads.

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