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every column was provided, and each battalion had
two light carts to carry them.

When in the neighbourhood of the enemy the men
took the chevaux-de-frise on their shoulders, formed a
skeleton column, and, when an attack was threatened,
they wheeled into line, fixed the joints in the ground,
and fastened them together.

To these arrangements the Russians owed their first
success against the Turks, as far back as 1711.

When General Munich marched out against the
Turks in 1736, he did not consider the chevaux-de-frise
a sufficient protection, and again armed part of his
infantry with long pikes. His troops marched in large
oblong squares ; these were at a moment's notice sur-
rounded by the iron spikes of the chevaux-de-frise, and
flanked by artillery. At this impassable barrier they
received their turbaned assailants, and poured upon
them a destructive fire in perfect safety.

No European cavalry, ^dthall its tactics, large squad-
rons, cuirasses, and lances, ever inspired such dread, or
brought infantry to the necessity of seeking safety her
hind impassable obstacles. The Moslems alone inspired
sufficient dread to call forth on the part of the infantry
a humiliating confession of their weakness in the precau-
tionary measures they adopted; for, unless surrounded
by these formidable engines of war, the Turks seldom
failed to burst in amongst them, and then handled


the sword quick, masterly, and without cessation, until
checked by the reaction brought on from the excess of
their own fury.*

With European cavalry they dealt in the same
summary way whenever they got amongst them : but,
to prevent this, the cavalry were formed in masses,
with guns and infantry on their flanks ! !

ISTow, if the individual prowess and skill in single
combat, the horsemanship and sharp swords of the
Turks, made them so formidable as history here
relates, how irresistible would cavalry be which to
these qualities should add that discipline and method
in which they were wanting, and which was the cause
of the disastrous termination of all their wars after
the close of the seventeenth century !

The Mamelukes of Egypt kept up their high quali-
ties as bold horsemen until they were annihilated at
the commencement of the nineteenth century : but
they can scarcely be said to have belonged to the
Turks. If these brave Mamelukes, drawn from dif-
ferent races and from different countries, but chiefly
from the ancient Thessaly and Macedonia, and from
the backgrounds of European Turkey which we now
caR Servia, Bosnia, Albania, etc., had been backed
by only a tolerable infantry, the sanguinary afi'air at
the Pyramids would have been a defeat and not a
victory to the French. Single-handed, the French

* Berenhorst.


troopers had no chance with these daring horsemen
and expert swordsmen.

"While the Russians and Austrians were impelled
by the Turks into an improvement of their cavalry,
pains were taken by the Prussians to add to the
efficiency of that arm. Wherever there was war, or
a probability of it, it was seen and felt that cavalry
must bear an important part, and that there was
much to change or to modify in it. Nobody thought
that, while infantry and artillery were improved,
cavalry could be left in statu quo.

Frederick William the Stadtholder and Leopold
of Dessau together reorganized the Prussian army,
and laid the foundation of that discipline which,
under Frederick the Great, became so celebrated,
and was copied by almost all European nations.

Frederick William would have tall men for his
army : they were kidnapped by his recruiting parties
wherever they were met with.

His cavalry were well drilled to fire in line, both
on foot and on horseback : nothing was done to make
them formidable in close combat ; they charged at a
walk or a trot.

When Frederick the Great ascended the throne, he
found his cavalry drilled in this way. The horses and
men were colossal : they dared not walk on a bad
pavement, or move beyond that pace on uneven ground.

At the first battle against the Austrians, the Impe-


rial cavalry, which, had gained experience in the
Turkish wars, charged the Prussians sword in hand,
Moslem fashion, at speed, and drove them from the
field. The Great Frederick, who did not Kke the
look of matters (at this battle of Mollwitz), took the
advice of his field-marshal, followed the fugitives, and
only rejoined the army next morning, on hearing that
his infantry had stood firm, and won the day in spite
of the flight of the cavalry.

When the campaign closed with the conquest of
Silesia, Frederick at once proceeded with the organi-
zation of this arm of the service. He began by doing
away with all firing in line, and gave all his attention to
making them good riders. Seidlitz formed his hussars
in two ranks, and towards the end of the campaign
the remainder of the cavalry followed his example.
They were all brought to do what Marshal Saxe laid
down as necessary, namely, to charge at their best
speed for 2000 yards without breaking their array.
Many of the old Prussian generals opposed these inno-
vations to the utmost ; but the King carried them
through, for he was convinced of the advantage of
impetuosity in the attack : and his mounted troops,
which had been defeated constantly in the first cam-
paign of the Seven Years' War, when thus reorganized
and led by Zeithen and Seidlitz, astonished the world
by their deeds of arms ; not only overthrowing
cavalry in their headlong career, but sweeping whole


armies of infantry off the field. "Witness the battles
of Strigau, Kesseldorf, Rossbach, Leutben, Zorn-
dorf. This last was the most glorious of all to the
Prussian horsemen, who, in thirty-six squadi^ons, under
Seidlitz, not only turned the fortune of the day,
saved the infantry and artillery of their o^ii army,
but checked the advance, overthrew the victorious
Russian cavalry, driving it from the field ; then
returned to fall upon the Russian infantry, which,
prepared to receive the Prussians, fought with the
most determined bravery ; and when their masses
were broken into by the furious horsemen, those
who escaped the sword threw themselves again into
masses, and had to be charged again and again. In
no modern battle did so many men fall by the sword
as at Zomdorf, though the Prussians had been twelve
hours on horseback before advancing to the charge.

At no time have more glorious deeds been done by
cavalry than were achieved by the Prussian horsemen
of those days. Th^eir arm was the sword; their
trust lay in the individual prowess and good riding of
their horsemen ; their tactics consisted in speed and
determination : and to this system is attributed not
only their wonderful success, but also their generally
trifling loss in killed and wounded.

Seidlitz practised his hussars at going across coun-
try, using their swords and fire-arms at speed ; and
various were the feats to which he drilled his men, in


order to make tliem. expert in the management of their
horses and arms.

An anecdote is related of him. When the King
inspected his regiment and found fault with the num-
ber of deaths occasioned that season by accidents at
drill, Seidlitz answered very drily — "If you make
such a fuss about a few broken necks, your Majesty
will never have the bold horsemen you require for
the field.'' It was one of the amusements of this
daring cavalier to ride in at speed between the arms
of a windmill while working. This feat Seidlitz often
performed after he had attained to the rank of a
general officer.

The ancient Greeks followed much the same system
as Seidlitz, being convinced that neither man nor
horse would be up to the work unless frequently put
to it beforehand. " If you wish to have a good war-
steed," says Xenophon, "you must try him in all
those things which may be required in war. These
are, to leap across ditches, scramble over walls, spring
up ascents and dash down descents ; and to be expe-
rienced in charging on slopes, uneven ground, and
transverse roads or paths. Many horses fail, not for
want of ability, but for want of experience in these
things. Let them be instructed, trained, and accus-
tomed, and they wiU excel in them aU, if they are
healthy horses and not vicious." *

* Xenophon on Horsemanship.

C 5


Frederick the Great divided his cavalry in the field
into corps of twenty, thirty, and forty squadrons, and
made them stand out boldly and alone to play their
own part according to circumstances. He wdelded
sword and sceptre. He directed these cavalry move-
ments with consummate skill and energy : he let no
opportunity pass without making his enemies feel
the weight of his sword ; and the Prussians, thus en-
couraged by their King, and full of confidence in their
leaders, plied their spurs and rode to victory.

It was a favourite saying of Frederick that three
horsemen in the enemy's rear do more than fifty in
front ; and his generals always tried to attack front,
flank, and rear at the same time. In the two first
attacks, or in front and flank, they generally suc-
ceeded. How they did so has remained a mystery
to this day. It however appears that they generally
seized the moment when the combined use of artillery
and infantry, or the use of either singly, had made an
impression, and then dashed in ; or that they rapidly
gained the enemy's flank and charged home. Out of
tiuenty-ttvo great battles fought by Frederick or his
generals, the cavalry, thus employed, decided the fate
oi fifteen.

To his cavalry in action Frederick gave no orders
beyond general directions as to which part of the field
it was to act in. The moment for attack was always
left to the generals commanding the cavalry, who, after


securing their flanks and pro\d(ling a reserve, spurred
and started ; and, being once started, they pushed on
whilst there was an enemy in the field.

Berenhorst (in his Betrachtungen iiber Kriegskunst)
gives the following interesting account of the battle of
Rossbach : —

" The generals were dining with the King at Eoss-
bach, when a cry arose of ' The French are coming !'
They jumped on their horses, and, as if by inspira-
tion, gave the order to fall in, form column, and take
ground to the left ; they must have been beaten had
they awaited on their own ground the well-planned
attack of the enemy ; but, without any intention of
misleading the French, they left the tents standing —
for they had no time to strike them ; and this accidental
circumstance deceived the enemy better than the most
cunningly devised scheme.

" The right wing of the Prussians stood fast ; the
other, marching in column by its left, and screened by
a rising ground from the view of the French, gained
their flank, whilst the enemy, advancing to surround
the Prussians, suddenly hesitated. Revel (one of the
Broglio family), who led the French attack, fell mor-
tally wounded at the first discharge, and left his
columns with their fianks exposed, and not knowing
what they were to do next.

^' The Prussian army, numerically weak, were full
of ardour, the forerunner of victory : they despised the


French. Those who were moving towards their flank
and rear looked upon the whole thing as a good joke ;
they were delighted at the idea of catching the enemy
at a disadvantage, and in this they succeeded.

'* The genius of the Prussian cavalry sprang forth
here from the fields of E-eichardtswerben, and led
them to victory,

" When the cavalry in order of battle, like a pent-
up flood, is held ready, and, at the first signal, poured
down in torrents, floods the field, sweeping all before
it, then has cavalry reached the ideal of j^erfection ;
and to this ideal Seidlitz attained with the Prussian
cavalry on that day. Soubise and Hildburg>shausen
were swept from the earth."

In reviewing the deeds of the Prussian cavalry of
those days, it must be borne in mind that they dealt
with infantry, which sought the open plain, advanced
in long lines — avoiding obstacles of all descriptions,
because such obstacles disturbed their array. Their
fire was quick, but not true in its aim, and their
squares seldom held out long against the horse-

In those days an individual could often take in at
one glance the whole state of affairs at any time dur-
ing a battle, and thus employ the cavalry at the proper
moment. But with the improvements in fire-arms
the extent of ground occupied by armies in position
has gone on increasing, and to such an extent that it


is no longer possible to overlook the field, and, there-
fore, more difficult for a cavalry leader to achieve the
same results as the Prussians did under Seidlitz and

Cavalry must now act more in unison with other
arms ; for great results are now achieved only by their
skilful combinations.

Since the Seven Years' War cavalry has fallen in
general estimation, and has lost that proud pre-
eminence at which it stood when it decided the fate of
battles. Many gallant deeds have been done in later
days by English and German horsemen, as at Avesne
le Sec, Yillers en Couche, Cateau Cambresis, Emsdorf,
Usagre, Salamanca, Garci- Hernandez, and Waterloo ;
and by the French in many a well-contested field ;
but they do not come up to the exploits of the horse-
men of Frederick the Great, who, held in hand in large
numbers, till the opportunity ofi'ered or necessity
required them to be let loose, then burst over the
battle-ground, and swept down all in their impetuous
course ; the word on their 'hearts, as well as lips, being
*' Charge home !"

At the commencement of the great war of the
French revolution (1792), the cavalry of our neigh-
bours was very far from being either numerous or
good. In fact, as a nation, the French are not, and
have never been, truly equestrian. Generally, they
are bad riders, and without good riding there can be


no thorouglily good horse-soldier. We do not think
that this deficiency is accounted for by the fact that
in nearly all parts of France the ground is tilled, not
by horses, but by oxen. We attach more importance
to a second reason assigned by Greneral Foy : the
Frenchmen's impatience, or what the General calls
vivacite inquiete, may prevent him from identifying
himself with his horse, or from learning to ride as he
ought. He has, besides, an hereditary superstition for
the long stirrup, and for balance- riding, which never
yet carried a man across a rough country without
disaster. In their first campaigns the French had
little chance against the German heavy horse, the
Hungarian hussars, or even the Walloon dragoons.
They seldom presented much cavalry in the open
field, and when they did it was usually to their disad-
vantage. Moreover, the French horses were poor,
under-sized, and under-bred. They got better re-
mounts when they conquered other countries with
their infantry, artillery, political propagandism, and
daring strategy. But the war-horse is nothing without
the rider, and cavalry soldiers are not to be improvised
quite so fast as foot-soldiers.*

Before the reign of Bonaparte some regiments of
heavy cavalry served as a corps of reserve to each
army, the rest of the horse being scattered among the

* "Za cavalerie nest pas si facile a improviser que Vinfan-
terie." General Foy, Histoire de la Guerre de la Peninsule.


divisions of infantry or joined with, tlie artillery.
Napoleon tried to give his cavalry the same part to
act in battle as Frederick the Great had given to his ;
but he organized them differently : and widely dif-
ferent were the results. Napoleon's horsemen were
not at home in their saddles ; they were heavily
equipped, and could not move with speed : he there-
fore formed them into very large masses, which
obtained the curious name of Corps d'Armee de
Cavalerie. In these large corps he attached guns to
each regiment, and used deep formations for attack ;
thus his cavalry played a secondary part to the
artillery ; its movements were cramped, its approach
necessarily slow, and, as it was always heralded by
its own cannon, the enemy was seldom taken by
surprise (except at Marengo), but had time to
prepare a reception which cost the French masses
of horse very dear. Still his horsemen, mostly clad
in defensive armour, were poured on slowly but
in irresistible numbers, and thus, regardless of the
loss of life, Napoleon by their means won many
a field. Even allowing for all the brilliancy of
Murat, it may be doubted whether he had one
cavalry leader whom Frederick the Great would have
called good.

Napoleon's cavalry generals often failed in bringing
their troops into action at the right time, and often
threw them too early into the scale, and so, when a


reserve of cavalry might have decided the fate of
battle, none was forthcoming.

They often neglected to protect their flanks or to
have a reserve at hand in case of disaster. In 1813,
on the 16th of October, near Leipzig, the cavalry
corps of Latour-Maubourg and Kellerman, about
5000 horses, led by Murat in person, attacked the
centre of the allied army advancing by Wachau
towards Gossa, overthrew the division of Russian
Light Cavalry of the Guard, captured thirty pieces of
cannon, and broke through the Kne ; but 400 Cossacks
of the Guard, gallantly led, fell upon their flank, and
not only retook all the guns, but drove them back
in confusion, turning the whole afi'air to the advantage
of the allies. These Cossacks had to gain the flank
of the enemy by a path which admitted only of single

At the battle of La Rothiere the same mistake,
and in a greater degree, was again committed by the

The cavalry divisions, Colbert, Guyot, and Pire,
having charged and overthrown the Russian division of
hussars under General Lanskoy, were preparing to
fall upon the infantry, when General Washiltschikofi"
brought up the Pantschulitschefi' division of dragoons
at a gallop, attacked the French in front and flank,
drove them from the field, and pursued them to
Alt Brienne, occasioning the loss of twenty-eight guns


to Napoleon's Garde : yet they had plenty of cavalry
in the field with which to have protected their flanks,
but it only made its appearance after the affair was
decided in favour of the allies.

Instances of this sort might bo adduced of the
Enghsh cavalry.

Charges, gallant and daring in their character, were
turned into disgraceful defeats or dreadful losses by
the culpable negligence of their officers in not having
reserves in hand to protect the flanks during an
attack, or to oppose an enemy coming on with fresh

In the Peninsula, in 1812, two regiments of English
horse under General Slade attacked and defeated two
regiments of French diagoons' near Llera, pursued
them madly for about eight miles, when the French
General, Lallemande, fell upon them with his reserves,
and routed them completely.

The Union Brigade under General Ponsonby, at
"Waterloo, suffered severely from the same cause :
after riding down everything in their way, entering
the enemy's position, and sabreing the artillerymen
at their guns, they were suddenly attacked by the
French cavalry reserves, and driven back with great

The 3rd Dragoons charged the Sikhs at Moodkee,
and drove along the rear of the whole of their position :
not only were they not supported, but our own artillery


played upon them at one time, and occasioned them
some loss. This gallant regiment returned to camp
in the evening, having lost nearly -two thirds of their
number in killed and wounded, and effected very
little except inspiring a wholesome dread of English




Let us here rapidly examine the cavalry of Austria,
Russia, and Prussia, as displayed in action, from the
year 1792 to the end of the war of the Revolution.

In their first campaigns the cavalry of the allies
surpassed that of the French in every particular.
They may not, in every case, have made the best use
of this advantage, but it is most indisputable that this
superiority existed, and that the allies had it. Their
cavalry corps were composed of men essentially horse-
soldiers by nature and habit, brave, numerous, well
mounted, and well organized : their individual supe-
riority was made apparent in every action from 1793
to the close of that century. That the advantages
they gained over the French in these numerous en-
gagements were never attended with any decisive
results on the campaign, can be attributed only to bad

The French cavalry, at last, defeated the cavalry of
the Austrians at the battle of Hochstedt, in the year


1800 ; gained by degrees a complete ascendancy over
all other continental cavalry ; and, in spite of its many
inherent defects, contributed, in no small degree, to
Napoleon's successes in tbe field, until their victorious
career was buried with them in the snows of Russia in

The cavalry of the Austrians and English, in 1793
and 1794, achieved at various times the most brilliant
successes in the Netherlands. Neither French horses
nor French men could stand against ours. If they
met, the weaker were literally rode down or rolled
over; but, unluckily, our horsemen knew little
more of their metier than how to make a charge,
nor did they always know how to do that in the best

The campaign of 1795 (on the Ehine) was one of
manoeuvres. The French were defeated at Handschu-
sheim with the loss of two thousand men and ten
guns, chiefly through the gallant conduct of the Aus-
trian dragoon regiment Kaiser, and the hussars of
Hohenzollern and Szekler. These hussars of the period
have often been described by old soldiers of various
nations (not excluding France) as the very perfection
of light cavalry. The most interesting incident in the
campaign was the storming of the lines round Mayence,
on account of the glorious part taken therein by the
Austrian cavalry. Three columns of attack were
formed, and to each a few squadrons were attached ; a


reserve of twenty- two squadrons was kept in readiness,
and tlie very moment the infantry stormed the Hnes
these horsemen rode in, were let loose on the enemy,
and achieved a complete victory, with comparatively
little loss to themselves.

The French lost all their guns, amounting to one
hundred and thirty- eight, and upwards of three thou-
sand men ; here one might well say with Suwarrow,
*' Vivent le sahre et la ha'ionnefte!''

In the succeeding campaign of 1796 the Imperial
cavalry did good service, and were well led during the
battle of Wiirzburg, but were made no use of after
they had gained the victory.

The whole of the French cavalry had been united
at this battle under the command of General Bonnaud ;
the cavalry of the Austrians met them close to Ems-
feld, and drove in their skirmishers ; Bonnaud, seeing
the Imperial cavalry gradually increasing in numbers,
thought it best to charge without loss of time. The
French fell on with resolution, and drove back the left
wing of the Austrians, who retired on their reserves ;
in the mean time fourteen squadrons of hussars burst
forth from behind a village, and galloped in on the
rear of the French, who were simultaneously attacked
in front by the German cuirassiers : the remainder of
the French cavalry were then thrown in to the rescue,
but the Austrians held twelve squadrons still in re-
serve, and these decided the fate of the day ; the


Frencli were driven off the field, pursued behind
their infantry, and two battaKons of the division
Grrenier were afterwards destroyed by the victorious

After the storming of Mayence the Imperialists
rested on their laurels, and concluded an armistice ;
after Wiirzburg, instead of following up Jourdan and
destroying his army, they halted, satisfied with the
results of the day. They stopped at the point which
Frederick the Great would have considered only as a
glorious starting point.

Never was so fair an opportunity thrown away ;
under the fiery spirit of a Seidlitz the cavalry would
have swept like a flood over the retreating and dis-
organised army, and made of Wiirzburgh a second
Rossbach for the French.

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Online LibraryL. E. (Lewis Edward) NolanCavalry : its history and tactics → online text (page 3 of 20)