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The Enigma of Dragoons

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The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Guest on Sun Oct 14, 2012 8:45 pm

The Enigma of Dragoons

As some of you probably realise by now, I have been researching historic French regiments and their uniforms.

One thing which has surprised me is that many of the famous elite regiments in the French army were trained (and expected) to fight on foot or mounted. In LGDR the only way to capture this seems to be to raise elite dragoons. However, in the rules, dragoons are inferior to both horse or foot in their respective roles, so the notion of elite troops being raised as dragoons seems crazy as by definition they would be inferior to elite foot or elite horse, easily defeated by either.

Elite dragoons seem to be necessary for provosts or military bands, but these are not substitutes for key elite historical units.

What has surprised me is how widespread this dual-role was in Louis’ army.


The Garde du Corps was originally formed in 1419 from Scottish Archers before being expanded to be armed with halberds (when fighting on foot) or carbines (when mounted). From 1676 they had become fully-fledged cavalry armed with pistol, sword and carbine. A quarter of them were armed with rifled carbines.

The Gendarmes de la Garde seem to have evolved from various units in the 1500s, before being formally established in 1609 under the command of the Dauphin. At this point they were a pure cavalry unit, even though rather oddly the title Gendarmes de la Garde simply means Men-at-Arms which is more usually associated with infantry. There also seems to be some confusion as to whether the gentlemen Company of Lancers (100 noblemen who formed an honour guard) formed part of the ancestry of the Gendarmes having originally been attached to the Garde du Corps.

The Mousquetaires de la Garde (originally founded in 1622) was disbanded (as per Dumas’ novels) in 1646, but re-established as the ‘Grey’ Musketeers (1657) and the ‘Black’ Musketeers (1665). D’Artagnan was the Captain of the ‘Grey’ Musketeers from 1667 until 1673 when he died at the siege of Maastricht. What is particularly interesting about these units is that entrants for the musketeers had to be experienced foot soldiers before they could join the musketeers. At this point they had to learn to ride a horse, but perhaps because of their heritage more often than not fought on foot.

The Grenadiers à Cheval de la Garde (horse grenadiers of the guard) had a similar heritage. It was formed from the bravest infantry grenadiers in the army in 1676. They were mounted and obliged to wear large black moustaches. So they could throw their grenades from horseback, they had a special cap (red, trimmed with fur) and carried pistols, carbines and curved sabres. Perhaps rather confusingly, they tended to fight on foot.


So we have 4 units who were very much elite, yet who don’t seem to fit into the rules. The Musketeers are probably the closest to dragoons and I guess the Horse Grenadiers could be raised simply as elite cavalry with grenades, though tactically they could not be used as they were historically. The rules do allow for ordinary infantry to be mounted, but the horses have to be replaced after every move, so that is hardly appropriate for elite units. I’m just curious if anyone ever managed to raise such historic units and if so how they did it?


Whilst musing on the subject of dragoons I also became curious as to their development in the 1700s. It appears that in France, the dragoons were indeed originally founded as cheap, flexible mounted infantry (just as in the LDGR rules). The first French dragoon regiment (Régiment de la Ferté) was raised in 1645, with another added in 1657. They were equipped with musket, pistol, sabre and shovel. The shovel was so they could dig in so they were clearly expected to fight on foot and consequently were not issued with cavalry boots. In the 1680s, more dragoon regiments were created specifically to implement the Dragonnades and oddly are pictured in contemporary prints wearing totally impractical cavalry boots with what appears to be rather comical green uniforms straight out of a pantomime. In 1684 with the huge expansion of infantry regiments, many new dragoon regiments were also raised, specifically as cheap cavalry, but these were disbanded in 1697. By the start of the War of the Spanish Succession, the French army had only 21 dragoon regiments, though some of these started life as converted horse regiments. This practice continued throughout the 1700s, one famous example being the 3rd Dragoons which was founded in 1649 as a cavalry regiment raised for the Duc d’Enghein (son of the Great Condé), renamed Bourbon-Cavalerie Regiment 1686, and Bourbon-Dragons in 1776 when it was turned into a dragoon regiment.

Compared to other armies the French army had very few dragoons. There is some evidence that French commanders during WSS didn’t really know what to do with dragoon regiments. They seemed to be used as a source for replacement troopers by existing cavalry units (or even infantry units where remounts were unsatisfactory) rather than for distinctive tactical purposes in their own right. The French seemed to hang on to Carbine-armed cavalry in the 1700s for far longer than other countries, so perhaps in the French army dragoons were seen as inferior Carabiniers? All this changed after the Revolution, of course! Names were replaced by numbers and many units were abolished. In other countries, cost considerations seemed to weigh more heavily and dragoons seemed to evolve into either combat cavalry (in a traditional heavy cavalry role) on heavier horses, or in fewer cases into a light cavalry role on their original lighter mounts for scouting/police duties.

With this in mind perhaps there is a need for a new kind of horse unit, a true mounted-infantry unit (not the LGDR definition of infantry mounted on horses that need replacing after moving) which does not have the disadvantages associated with ordinary dragoons, but which can be adapted to the dual role of these elite French units, and probably similar units in other armies of the time. They would still be relatively small in number because if they were costed as elite cavalry, you would need to raise 5 at a base cost of £95,000 in place of each elite infantry unit costing £17,500. That is a huge premium to pay just for the sake of being historical, and perhaps that is why I suspect it has never been seriously tried. However I am curious as to whether players have attempted to raise similar elite units from their own countries who were expected to be equally skilled on horse or foot, and if so how?
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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Ardagor on Sun Oct 14, 2012 11:40 pm

The first dragoons was raised because there was often horses available that nobody wanted but was not quite bad enough for being slaughtered, so give them to the infantry to give them more mobility. Great idea in principle. Then there was a problem as the standard infantry musket of the day prove quite difficult if not impossible, to be transported on horseback. It could be fired from horseback, but reloaded? Probably not.
It was just to long and heavy, the trooper could expect severe trouble with his back if he carried it in the standard infantry way on his back/shoulder and it started to bounce around if the horse want at anything else than walking speed. No where else to place it either that was practical.
The carbine was born, by cutting a a foot or more from the barrel of the musket to make it useful. this solved the problem of moving the weapon by horseback but another problem was born, the carbine was just to short to compete against musket armed infantry in a bayonet duel, the bayonet was now useless to the dragoons, so it was removed.
The dragoons needed some weapon to use from horseback as only the very best trained units, which did not include most dragoons, could actually fire a musket from horseback and expect to hit anything. So they were equipped with a sword, usually a short, chopping blade to defend themselves.
Standard dragoons will be at a disadvantage against regular infantry and any serious cavalry force, mobility was their strength, and the reason for the initial use. Elite units is of course another story entirely.

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Guest on Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:35 am

Thanks Ardagor, I hoped there would be some military expert out there who would be able to fill in a few missing pieces.

This is a very good explanation as to why carbines were useless against muskets and so why dragoons were at a disadvantage vs foot or horse.

Of course it does prompt another question, though: where does the rifled carbine fit in (as used by the Garde du Corps?) I thought rifles required a longer barrel and were hard to engineer in 1700 anyway. If the carbine suffered from inaccuracy due to being a foot shorter than a musket, then did rifling a carbine make any real difference? Did it perhaps bring it up to the accuracy of an ordinary musket (no great improvement!) but given the difficulty of hitting anything when fired from a horse I guess that no matter what weapon was used the point you make still stands. Perhaps the obvious way round is to arm dragoons with a blunderbuss, or naval musketoon designed to be so inaccurate they must hit something!?

If mobility is indeed the big advantage of dragoons, then within the constraints of LGDR rules it appears that mounting ordinary infantry on horses would be the way to get usable dragoons?


Ardagor wrote:Elite units is of course another story entirely.

That is really the main point of the topic. How is it possible to mirror the performance of these elite units within the game when the concept of elite dragoons doesn't seem to work for the reasons you describe?

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by J Flower on Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:08 pm

Dragoons were initially created to give the infantry a degree of mobility on the Battle field, A sort of flying column to take it to any part of the field, over time it was seen to evolve more into a mounted arm with the infantry side taking a secondary role, don't forget all cavalry were still expected to be drilled in Foot drill as well as mounted drill.

Dragoons were also cheaper to maintain, in pay & equipment, the horses were also not as big as those used for the Cuirassier Regiments so were also cheaper. In the British army the Dragoon Gaurd received a higher rate of pay than the normal Dragoon, but still less than the Horse Regiments.

I'm not sure at what point in the development of the Dragoon into a more cavalry oriantated role took place, as it was a gradual process, in game terms it may be equated to the drill level perhaps with the ability to train dragoons up in either a cavalry, infantry role or both. Dragoons were seen eventually as Heavy Cavalry towards the end of the period, so maybe the drilling in Horsemanship would reflect that.

Interestingly Napoleon had a number of dismounted Dragoon Regiments on his ORBAT, Although that may have been due to lack of horses as opposed to any other reason.
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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Jason on Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:54 pm

An interesting post Louis. I wonder if perhaps the easiest solution would be for someone to have a cavalry academy research a new type of unit, of the sort that would meet the historical model you're talking about?

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Guest on Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:07 pm

Jason/Jason, thank you both.

It is amazing what little bits of research I miss! I never realised that cavalry were trained in foot drill. And yes, pushing the problem onto an academy to solve could well be a good way of ensuring that a unit can be created which will perform as expected. If in doubt, ask the GM.

It is a weakness that I sometimes get so buried in the research I forget LGDR is a game!

The British records tend to be far more complete than French records, which went through a few upheavals followed by the Revolution, then Napoleon who liked to do as he pleased. Another influence on the development of French cavalry was Marshall de Saxe who seemed to have some very advanced ideas and some (like equipping heavy cavalry in suits of armour) which never really caught on. Most European countries followed the developments of Frederick the Great, whereas France insisted on being different.

When it came to dragoon regiments, my research on individual unit histories is ongoing, though because dragoon regiments were often privately raised and then sold between colonels, or split/amalgamated, it gets very messy. With incomplete records some regiments claim very long ancestry. The 2nd dragoons claims to trace its founding back to 1556 as a private regiment of the House of Condé. Whether it was used in battle or simply for decoration (as many small private companies were) at that early date I haven't been able to establish. The famous Cardinal Dragoons (est.1635 by Cardinal Richelieu) were converted to fusiliers on his death, but subsequently remounted as a cavalry regiment, renumbered in 1791 and converted to be the 6th Cuirassiers (1803). There were only 15 dragoon regiments in 1714, though the 5th dragoons was split out of the 1st dragoons in 1688, and 20th dragoons was founded in 1675. The first mention of the 14th dragoons I could find was in 1792. The 16th dragoons was founded in 1718. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 15th were all converted to dragoons in 1776 from earlier cavalry regiments. So trying to identify precisely which units were raised as dragoons and stayed on active service right through the early 1700s is incredibly difficult. Napoleon really confused the numbering first in 1791/92, raising more in 1796, then combining elements of various other units to boost the numbers up to 30. Between 1791 and 1814 some units were alternatively cavalry/dragoon/cavalry/dragoon all with different numbers.

You can tell I'm bored, getting carried away with research again!

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Jason on Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:36 pm

Research is always a good cure for boredom Wink

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Stuart Bailey on Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:02 am


Reading the game rules on elite cavalry units I dont think it makes any difference if they are elite Dragoons like the French Mousquetaires, elite Horse or elite Lancers like the Sultans best all are as per the rules "Superbly motivated, such cavalry are the best" and are out to prove it.

With the French Guard and some other units the title and the fact that they carried muskets on foot when guarding the king in his palace is surely of minor importance to the fact that they had very good horses (not Dragoons Nags!) & equipment and the pick of the recruits. Basically the way I read the rules is that all elite cavalry inc elite Dragoons cost the same and in a fight will fight the same mounted.

Now if you want your elite cavalry to fight on foot as Dragoons and make a good historic case I am sure that the GM will be happy for units like the Mousquetaires to dismount and volunteer to lead the storming of the breach in the style of Charles de Batz at the siege of Maastricht. In fact being Agema NPC and French Nobles thay may even start demanding their right to lead the Charge!

Suspect most players will want they elite Cavalry to stay firmly on the horses!

The other option found in LAK was to have a "Palace Guard Unit" I think all they did was look nice, Guard your character and cost lots of money.

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by J Flower on Wed Oct 17, 2012 5:58 am

Dragoons were at the start a Jack of all trades masters of none compromise, neither good at fighting on foot or on Horse back, over time they evolved more as a Cavalry arm rather than a foot role. I think Stuart is right about the Elite unit part, eD will fight as good as other mounted elements of your army, altough Elite Horse with Cuirass would I suspect have the edge. Maygbe the answer is to raise Elite Dragoons with Cuirass, in hte game they cost the same. Historically the Dragoon received roughly half the pay of a Cavalry rider, so there wide sprad introduction as a mounted arm may also have that as it's roots. They did the same job, virtually as well as the cavalry but for a lower cost, bit like some of the modern day work practices.

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Stuart Bailey on Thu Oct 18, 2012 9:37 pm

J Flower wrote:Dragoons were at the start a Jack of all trades masters of none compromise, neither good at fighting on foot or on Horse back, over time they evolved more as a Cavalry arm rather than a foot role. I think Stuart is right about the Elite unit part, eD will fight as good as other mounted elements of your army, altough Elite Horse with Cuirass would I suspect have the edge. Maygbe the answer is to raise Elite Dragoons with Cuirass, in hte game they cost the same. Historically the Dragoon received roughly half the pay of a Cavalry rider, so there wide sprad introduction as a mounted arm may also have that as it's roots. They did the same job, virtually as well as the cavalry but for a lower cost, bit like some of the modern day work practices.

I think Jason's comments are only really true for Western Europe and to just think of Dragoons as inferior Cavalry is a bit unfair on a very important troop type.

In Eastern Europe where warfare is often dominated by space and distance - Russia, Poland, Austria, Ottoman Lands the Dragoons or troops like them are better viewed and used as the best of the Infantry rather than the worst of the Cavalry. In the Great Northern War Peter the Great had 32 Dragoon Regts 21 of which where organized with their attached galloper artillery into the key reserve formations of the Russian Army.

In game I suspect Russian, Persian, Indian, Ottoman, Polish and Austrian players with multiple widely spaced fronts are probably happy to pay the extra approx twice as much as foot to put the same number of muskets/rifles in the field because at least they get to the correct field.

As for the view that they are inferior to horse this is true if you are looking only at Cavalry Charges on the Battle Field. For scouting, guarding supply colums and defending against Skirmish tactics they are probably superior.

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by J Flower on Fri Oct 19, 2012 8:43 am

To show how important the cavalry role of the Dragoon had become , In 1729 the best size of a cavalry mount was 15 hands 1 inch, for Dragoons it was 15 hands, this reflects the role change from a mounted infantry to a purely mounted role. In Britain the only Regiments defined as "Horse" were the Lifeguards & The Royals. The Regiments of Dragoon Guards were equipt with the Cuirass. An indication that they were more in the role of Heavy Cavalry than infantry.

The horses in question were also preferably dark brown horses, only the Queens Dragoon Guards with there light brown horses (hence the name "Queens Bays" and the Royal North British Dragoons on there Grey mounts, (eventually becoming the Scot's Greys) were the exceptions. Apparently the Darker horses gave a more fearsome appearance to the units.

Interstingly Britain had no Hussars until 1805, Light Dragoons fulfilled the role, albeit possiably without as much rape, pillage & cutting off of ears.

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by Stuart Bailey on Fri Oct 19, 2012 10:06 pm

Dont think examples from the British Cavalry are of much value in a European context since while the Austrians, Prussians and French Cavalry had tactical doctrines and in theory detailed regulations concerning the size of horses and recruits the British just seem to have all purpose "Cavalry" and the units title seems to have little relevance to its actual use.

In contrast to European Cavalry Establishments British Cavalry also seem to have had quite mad Anglo-Irish Nobles picking both the recruits and horses for their Regiment.

Not sure which one it was but one in theory Light Dragoon Regt showed up in Spain after a long period in Ireland mounted on these huge Irish Hunters and promptly rode down Heavy French Cavalry which actually had much lighter horses.

Oh course trying to trying to pull up and rally a bunch of big Irish Hunters once they were off was probably a bit difficult.

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Re: The Enigma of Dragoons

Post by J Flower on Sat Oct 20, 2012 3:13 pm

All French Cavalry apart from the Genderimes was classified as Light, only the 7th Regiment wore front & back Cuirass, the rest only the front.

A British General was quoted as saying that 1 English Squadron was a match for two French but two French were a match for 4 English, the larger the British formation the more proplematic the command & control, The battle of Waterloo isn't the only example of cavalry charging off into the blue, then finding itself on winded horses at the mercy of the enenmy.

Although to be fair a favoured tactic of the lighter cavalry was to avoid the contact of their heavier opponents then turn on them when the situation was to there advantage.

Stuart is correct to say that British horse Regiments are a poor example simply because there were only the Household Regiments that were classified as Horse all the other mounted Regiments being Dragoons of one sort or another.

An interesting regiment to research is the v.Zastrow Regiment in Saxon service, at the turn of the C19th thought to be the best regiment in Europe, they were I beleive destroyed before the Grand Redoubt at Borodino.

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