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THE GREAT CAVALRY BATTLE
(14th October, 1813)
by Peter Hofschr÷er
Minature Wargames 38
Much has been written about the Napoleonic Wars and certainly the cavalry of the period has not been neglected, but outside of the charge of the Union Brigade at Waterloo and Murat's great achievement at Eylau, little else of the numerous cavalry actions both small and large has attracted as much attention. The largest cavalry action of the period was at Liebertwolkwitz in Saxony, south of Leipzig, and it was one of the several battles which preceded the greatest clash of arms prior to the world wars of this century, that is, the Battle of Leipzig.
This cavalry action lasted the best part of a day and was very much a confused affair, which is reflected in the contemporary accounts of the fighting. Little is certain, but sufficient information is available to be able to gain a good overall impression of the battle, the forces involved and the commanders. A number of scholarly works were produced by both the German and Austrian General Staffs at the turn of the century and reference has been made to them in preparing this series of articles. The French works consulted tended as a whole not be of such a high standard, but they nevertheless contained sufficient information to warrant being included in the bibliography which will appear at the end of this series.
Organisation, Equipment & Training of the Cavalry
The allied cavalry consisted both of regular and irregular formations. The former were divided into light and heavy cavalry and the latter consisted of Cossacks, militia, free corps and the like. The heavy cavalry tended to be kept in large formations behind the front and the Army of Bohemia had a reserve of 19 cuirassier regiments (6 Austrian, 1 Prussian and 12 Russian), some 86 squadrons and roughly 10,000 sabres. Of these, only 4 Russian regiments Division Duka participated in the Battle of Liebertwolkwitz, and even then, they did not come into the action. Only in the Battle of Leipzig itself did they see action. Heavy cavalry was also used in functions such as guarding the supply trains, escort duties, guarding prisoners, requisitioning, etc., relieving the light cavalry; but only exceptionally were they used for picket and reconnaissance duties. Most operational duties were the sphere of the light cavalry, so much so that commanders were reluctant to use them for patrols and raids and so used mainly Cossacks for that purpose. In fact, the Cossacks were so successful in those functions that in the campaigns of 1812 and 1813, they are said to have taken over 90,000 enemy prisoners as well as about 600 cannon.
The heavy cavalry of the Austrian Army consisted of 8 cuirassier and 6 dragoon regiments, each of 6 squadrons. Every two squadrons formed a division (Colonel's, Lieutenant Colonel's, Major's). The troops were numbered in such a way that the first squadrons had the odd numbered troops, the second the evens. The division was seen as a tactical unit.
The peace time strength of a squadron of heavy cavalry consisted of 5 officers, 15 NCOs and 100 troopers. In the event of war, the number of troopers was supposed to be brought up to 130. On mobilisation, there were so many detachments and secondments that at the beginning of the 1813 campaign, most heavy cavalry regiments could take the field with only four squadrons. Right up to the beginning of October, only three of the heavy cavalry regiments with the Army of Bohemia consisted of six squadrons.
The light cavalry of the Austrian Army consisted of 6 regiments of chevauxlegers, 12 of hussars and 3 of uhlans, of which all 6 of the chevauxlegers and 7 of the hussar regiments were attached to the Army of Bohemia. The light regiments were 8 squadrons strong which were divided into 4 divisions (Colonel's, Lieutenant Colonel's, 1st and 2nd Major's). The squadrons had a peacetime strength of 5 officers, 15 NCOs and 100 troopers in the chevauxlegers and hussars and 110 in the uhlans. In time of war this was to be brought up to 150 troopers, but for similar reasons to the heavy cavalry, the light regiments took to the field with only 6 squadrons a piece and these were only 130 men strong. By the beginning of October only one regiment had attained the strength of 7 squadrons and none had got to the regulation 8. These squadrons were on average around 100 to 130 men strong. The hussars were all volunteers, all other cavalry were conscripts obliged to do 14 years of service. The cuirassier troopers had to be at least 5'6", tall, the men of the light cavalry 5'4"!
The horse material was of a high quality and many of the cuirassier horses were thoroughbreds, although the necessities of campaigning forced the Austrian cavalry to use farm horses and even unbroken ones on occasion.
Weapons & Equipment
The cuirassiers were armed with an 87cm long and 3.6cm wide straight bladed sword known as the Pallasch. It weighed about 1.6kg and was carried in a steel scabbard. In addition to this, each trooper carried a brace of M. 1797 pistols with a calibre of 17.6mm and a barrel length of 47cm. Furthermore, 8 troopers per squadron were armed with the M1798 rifled carbine which had a calibre of 15.6mm and a barrel length of 69cm and a further 8 troopers had the smoothbore short "hussar carbine" which weighed 2.5kg, had a calibre of 17.6mm and a barrel length of 85cm. Carbines were carried on the right hip on a broad strap which hung from the left shoulder. On the front of this belt was the ramrod and on the back the cartridge box. Every man carried 32 rounds of ammunition which was either all pistol ammunition or 12 pistol and 20 carbine. As the carbine and pistol had the same calibre, pistol rounds could be fired from the carbine in an emergency. Finally, the cuirassiers wore a crested helmet and breast armour.
The dragoons were armed in a similar fashion to the cuirassiers, except, of course that they did not wear any armour. Furthermore, they were all armed with the 123cm long, 3.25kg heavy "dragoon carbine". Sixteen men per squadron carried the rifled carbine (see cuirassiers). The long carbines were carried on the right of the saddle.
The chevauxlegers had a smaller version of the Pallasch, a brace of pistols and the "hussar carbine" (see cuirassiers). Sixteen men per squadron had the rifled carbine.
The hussars carried the same carbine as the chevauxlegers and had the curved sabre which was 84cm long, 3.5cm wide and weighed 1.6kg. The uhlans also had a 263cm long and 2kg heavy lance, which had a black and yellow pennant. The uhlans were-equipped with the same number and type of firearms as the cuirassiers.
The Russian cavalry, which had been greatly weakened by the 1812 campaign, was also divided into heavy and light. The former consisted only of the cuirassiers, whilst the latter included the dragoons, light horse, hussars and lancers. All regular cavalry regiments, with the exception of the Guard Cossack Regiments, had a regulation strength of 6 field and 1 depot squadron. The field squadrons had a regulation strength of 7 officers, 18 NCOs, 3 trumpeters and 180 troopers. Not a single regiment attained this strength during the entire 1813 campaign. At the end of the 1812 campaign, most regiments were down to two, or even just one, weak squadron. Reserves and replacements were continually sent and by October 1813, the regular attached to the Army of Bohemia were from 2 to 6 squadrons of regiments between 90 and 150 men strong.
In theory, the Russian cavalry was organised in divisions of two brigades, each of two regiments, a total of 24 squadrons. Sometimes, the divisions were organised into cavalry corps. A corps, and sometimes a division, had a company of horse artillery 12 guns attached. Due to numerous detachments to raiding parties, to the larger infantry formations which had no integral cavalry, etc., the already weak cavalry divisions never came anywhere near their supposed strength. There Were some 3 cuirassier divisions, (1 of which was guards), 4 of dragoons, 3 of hussars, 3 of lancers, 2 of light horse, 1 Combined Guard Light Cavalry Division, and a brigade of Caucasian dragoons. Only the Guard Cavalry and the three cuirassier divisions remained together, the others were broken up to form detachments, etc.
An important part of the Russian mounted arm consisted of Cossacks (both "regulars" and "irregulars"), foreign units, volunteers and militia. The "regular" Cossacks consisted of the Combined Lifeguard Cossack Regiment (533 men) and 4 Ukrainian Cossack Regiments, each of 8 squadrons totalling 1343 men. The former was with the Army of Bohemia as part of the Guard Light Cavalry Division, whilst the latter were attached to the Army of Silesia.
Around 60 Cossack regiments were formed for the 1812 campaign, and those that marched into Germany in 1813 were less than 350 men strong, most being around 250 men. Draughts of new recruits in 1813 did little to make up for those losses. There were about 25 Cossack regiments with the Army of Bohemia. There were also a number of other irregulars with the Army of Bohemia, Bashkirs and the like.
In peacetime, the Russian cavalry was well mounted, but the losses of 1812 and the shortage of good replacements in the campaigning areas of 1813 meant that the quality of the horses was, as a whole, very poor.
Weapons & Equipment
The cuirassiers carried a long, straight bladed, rather heavy sword in an iron scabbard. All other cavalry had the sabre, usually in a leather scabbard, although some of the dragoons and light horse had iron scabbards. Every trooper had a brace of pistols with 20 rounds of ammunition. The lancers and the front rank of the hussars also had a 3m long lance. All dragoon muskets and carbines had been handed over to the militia in 1813 and were returned only in 1814. Only 16 men per squadron were armed with rifled carbines. The Cossacks had longer lances and a musketoon. The cuirassiers also had iron breast and back armour.
In 1813, the Prussian cavalry consisted of the Garde du Corps, the Combined Guard Light Cavalry Regiment (1 squadron each of uhlans, dragoons, hussars and Cossacks), 3 cuirassier regiments, 6 of dragoons, 6 of hussars and 3 of uhlans each of 4 squadrons. Each squadron consisted of 6 officers, 11 NCOs, 12 carabineers, 3 trumpeters and 98 troopers. On mobilisation, this was increased by 3 NCOs and 22 troopers and thus a squadron counted 150 men. In the autumn campaign of 1813, the Prussian squadrons averaged 100 to 130 men.
The numerous volunteers were organised into detachments attached to the various line formations. 'That attached to the Garde du Corps was known as the "Guard Volunteer Cossack Squadron". In all, there were some 2,350 such volunteers.
There were also a number of mounted free corps such as Luetzow's and Hellwig's. Three provinces had formed "National Cavalry Regiments" at their own cost. Finally, there were 312(sic) militia cavalry regiments of various sizes and strengths which totalled some 12,000 men,
Prior to the outbreak of war, most horses came from East Prussia.
The units raised in provinces along the Polish border also had many Polish and Moldavian horses. The needs of war caused a lowering of standards. Horses for the newly raised formations were often unbroken, although those of the volunteer formations were exceptionally good as the volunteers tended to bring their own mounts with them.
Weapons & Equipment
The line regiments had only minor differences in uniform and equipment. The cuirassiers were armed with a long, Straight bladed sword; the Guard Cossacks, Guard Volunteer Cossacks, the Uhlans and the East Prussian National Cavalry carried lances, as did much of the Militia Cavalry. Every trooper was supposed to carry a brace of pistols, but as supplies were needed for the militia, most line troopers gave up one of theirs. In the cuirassiers, dragoons and uhlans, 20 men per squadron were armed with carbines and 12 with rifled weapons. In the hussars, 12 men were armed with rifles, the rest with carbines. The National Cavalry Regiments were supposed to have the same number and type of firearms as the hussars, but this was not accomplished due to shortages of supplies. The volunteers were supposed to carry a carbine or rifle wherever possible. Firearms were rare in the militia.
The line cavalry was well trained, although not as well as in the days of Seydlitz. Both the individual and the unit were trained. In peacetime, brigade manoeuvres were held and some experience of warfare was gained in 1812.
The National Cavalry, Volunteers and Militia were largely untrained and learned their trade in the course of the war. However, the militia formations often had a cadre of experienced cavalrymen. Arming them with a lance was not a good idea as this weapon was only effective in the hands of trained horsemen.
The French Army of 1813 was largely an entirely new force, (although some veterans from Russia and Spain were included in its ranks) which learned its trade, and suffered even more losses in doing so, during the campaign of spring 1813.
The French cavalry consisted of the following units: 6 regiments of Guards (1 Regiment of Horse Grenadiers, 1 of Chasseurs ß Cheval, 1 of Dragoons, 1 of Polish Lancers, 1 of Dutch Lancers, the Berg Lancers and two squadrons of Gensdarmes d'elite). Each regiment was of 6-10 squadrons, 2-4 of which belonged to the Old Guard, the rest to the Young Guard. Then there were 4 regiments of Guards of Honour each of 5 squadrons (nominally 10), 2 carabinier, 14 cuirassier, 24 dragoon, 28 chasseur, 14 hussar and 9 (2 Polish) lancer regiments. Each regiment consisted of 2 to 4 squadrons (although the 10th. Hussars and 19th. Chasseurs had 6 and the 13th. Chasseurs 8). Each squadron consisted of 2 companies and each regiment had an elite company. Including the Guard, there were 322 squadrons of French cavalry in Germany. In addition to that were the following Polish (Grand Duchy of Warsaw) units: 3 chasseur regiments, 6 lancer regiments and the so called "Light Vanguard Regiment", formed from a regiment of Krakus and the remnants of the 7 remaining Polish light regiments. Each regiment was 4 squadrons strong. There were also 2 squadrons of Polish cuirassiers. Finally, various other allied cavalry units Italians, Saxons, Wuerttemberg and Confederation of the Rhine were at the disposal of the French.
The regulation strength of a French light cavalry squadron (chasseurs, hussars, lancers) was 6 officers, 28 NCOs and 222 troopers, a total of 256 men. The dragoons had 6 officers, 22 NCOs and 212 troopers, a total of 240 men. The cuirassiers had 6 officers, 16 NCOs and 218 troopers, a total of 240 men. There were plans to reduce this theoretical establishment to 250 men for a light squadron, and 200 for a heavy, but even this was well above the reality of the situation because in October 1813, most French cavalry squadrons could only raise 100 to 110 troopers, although the Polish and Guard units tended to be slightly stronger.
The regiments of the 1st and 2nd Reserve Cavalry Corps were made up as follows: The 1st Squadron consisted of survivors of the Russian Campaign, together with conscripts of the 1812 class who were mounted by the depots in Hanover and Mainz. The 2nd Squadron consisted of the depots and conscripts of the 1812 and even the 1813 class. The 3rd, 4th and 5th Squadrons, where they were formed, consisted of the same. The 3rd and 5th Reserve Cavalry Corps had a similar composition along with 25 to 30 Spanish veterans per squadron. The 5th Cavalry Corps "bis", which was combined with the 5th Cavalry Corps on 13th October, consisted largely of Spanish veterans.
The French cavalry was thus not in a happy state. At the beginning of the summer campaign, 60%-70% of the 1st Squadrons were veterans, the remainder poorly trained despite their 18 months of service. The 2nd Squadrons consisted of 40%-50% depot men and the remainder rank novices who hardly knew how to sit on a horse. The remaining squadrons (with the exception of the 5th Cavalry Corps "bis") consisted of 15%-20% veterans, 50%-60% recruits from the Class of 1812 and 25%-35% from the Class of 1813 taken from the infantry depots. The heavy cavalry fared a little better as their 2nd and 3rd Squadrons included 3,000 gensdarmes (Police) who were sent along with their own horses. The Old Guard, of course, consisted exclusively of veterans. The Young Guard had a cadre of 25-35 veterans per squadron along with volunteers from Paris and members of the Class of 1813 selected for their aptitude. The Polish "Vanguard Regiment" also consisted largely of veterans and the Polish cavalry recruits were of a far better quality than the French because they were all familiar with horses and could ride.
The 4th Cavalry Corps which consisted of Polish recruits, the cavalry of the Old Guard and the 5th Cavalry Corps "bis" were the best cavalry available to the French.
Apart from the horses used by the Guard, those of the Gensdarmes and those coming from Spain, around 8,000 to 10,000 horses, the remaining 48,000 horses used by the French cavalry were largely unbroken, too young or too old. Moreover their untrained riders had to sit on poor quality, mass produced saddles. The rate of sickness amongst the horses was very high and their sores were reported to give off a stench that was noticeable at 100 yards. Even the good Spanish horses were not at their best, as they were force marched from Spain to Saxony. In October 1813, the French cavalry was hardly capable of riding at a gallop.
Weapons & Equipment
The cuirassiers and dragoons were armed with long, straight bladed swords. The light cavalry had curved sabres and the chevauxlegers had lances. The light cavalry and cuirassiers carried short carbines, whilst the dragoons had the long and heavy "Dragoon Muskets" with bayonet. All cavalry troopers were also armed with pistols.
The officers, NCOs and veterans were all experienced campaigners and they rode alongside men of the class of 1813 who had virtually no experience or training. Furthermore, the horses they used had never had a man on their backs and were even less trained than their riders. With such material, there was little opportunity for any tactical finesse, as will be seen in the account of the battle itself. The French cavalry troopers saddled their horses, mounted them and rode forward in a mass. They attacked at a trot in columns, despite what their leaders wanted and the regulations prescribed. Despite all its faults however, the French cavalry did almost all that it was asked to do.
The cavalry squadrons of both sides were drawn up in two ranks, knee to knee. The French formed their squadrons into 48 files (64 in the case of stronger squadrons) and used the remaining men to form a "squadron reserve" under a subaltern officer, selecting the best men, horses and officer whose function was to prevent the enemy breaking through, to fill any gaps and, when necessary, to form a flank guard. When the squadron was dismounted, they had to remain on their horses and guard the remainder of the squadron. Furthermore, they were to act as flanquers or skirmishers, and as scouts. Were the squadrons less than 48 files strong, then the regimental commander was to use the elite companies (first half squadron of the first squadron) for this purpose.
For tactical purposes, every squadron was divided into two halves, known as "Divisions" in the French Army and Fluegel in the Austrian. (The "Division" in the Austrian Army consisted of two squadrons).
Flankers played an important role, protecting columns on the march, carrying orders, screening movements, harassing the enemy. In large engagements, entire squadrons were used in skirmish order. However, only part of the unit designated as flankers was deployed in open order. In the Austrian Army, the entire second rank was held back in close order as supports. In other armies, a number of files were held back, usually those men that did not have a carbine. If the support was used to strengthen the skirmish line, then another unit took its place. The flankers usually operated in pairs for mutual protection and in the Austrian Army for instance, ten to twelve flankers covered 150 to 200 paces of front. The first men to be used were those armed with rifled carbines, then those with smoothbores. The former were veterans noted for their marksmanship from horseback. The Prussian volunteer cavalry picked up a trick from the Cossacks. With their left foot still in its stirrup, they used their saddle as a rest when firing.
The newest regulations in use were the Prussian Regulations of 1812 which allowed attacks in line with or without intervals, en echelon and in column. The Prussians and the Russians favoured the attack "en echelon", whereas the French preferred the column. The attack in line without intervals between the squadrons was rarely used because it was so clumsy.
The French ordered their charges when 360 paces from the point de vue, the Prussians and Russians 600 to 800 paces, whilst the Austrians did not specify any distance. The charge began at a walk. At 1200 (France) to 300 paces (Austrian), the trot started, then a gallop and at 50 to 100 paces, the all out charge. The French charge covered a much shorter distance, probably because their horses were of poorer quality, and was thus delivered with less power.
Part II of this series will outline the background of the campaign and Part III will cover the battle itself.