Posted on Wednesday 12th August 2015

Napoleon massed his cavalry to form huge bodies that could turn the tide of battle in a matter of minutes in a crashing charge. Yet, as Digby Smith explains, the success of a cavalry charge hung on many factors. These included terrain, weather, the condition of the horses, and, most especially, leadership and timing.
These factors are all considered as the author examines the cavalry charges at some of the key battles of the period, including Marengo, Eylau, Albuera, the crossing of the Beresina and Waterloo.
Cavalry charges were not always offensive actions. An enemy assault could be stopped by a well-executed counter-attack by cavalry, and infantry could be brought to a halt or prevented from deploying merely because of the presence of cavalry. Equally, once released in a headlong charge, cavalry was hard to control, with British cavalry being particularly difficult to rally, scarcely knowing when to stop.
The Battle of Waterloo provided examples of many of these elements. The charge of the British heavy cavalry wrecked the attack of the French I Corps, but the ‘heavies’ failed to rally and were cut to pieces by the French cavalry. When Marshal Ney later led his cavalry against the Allied infantry squares he achieved nothing as he had entirely misjudged the situation.
Brought to life with vivid eye-witness accounts, the reader is carried along at a gallop with cuirassiers, dragoons and lancers in some of the most exciting combats of one of history’s most dramatic eras – an era that being explored to the full by Frontline’s Napoleonic Library. An unparalleled collection of classic works on the Napoleonic Wars, it presents some of the finest memoirs and studies of the period, bringing together renowned contemporary accounts with more recent analytical publications.
the battle of austerlitz
The Battle of Austerlitz, probably Napoleon’s greatest victory, was fought on 2 December 1805. The scene shown here is of Russian light cavalry.

the battle of jena
The Battle of Jena on 14 October 1806 was notable for two cavalry actions. The first, led by the Prussian General Blücher failed catastrophically, causing disruption amongst the Prussian infantry. Then, with the battle won, Murat’s cavalry conducted a ruthless retreat which prevented the Prussians from rallying and led to an almost complete collapse of Prussian resistance.

the battle of eylau
At the Battle of Eylau, fought on 7-8 February 1807 and was notable for a massed cavalry charge led by Napoleon which saved the day after an attack by his infantry had failed with heavy losses.

the battle of Friedland
The Battle of Friedland on 14 June 1807 witnessed a charge by eighty squadrons of French cavalry, some 10,700 men, save Napoleon’s centre.

the battle of ASPERn-essling
Repeated charges by the French cavalry at the Battle of Aspern-Essling on the banks of the Danube on 21 May 1809, were eventually nullified by the Austrians. The following day the French cavalry broke through the Austrian lines and almost won the day, being held at the last moment by the Austrian reserves led by Archduke Charles in person.

the battle of salamanca
At Wellington’s famous victory at Salamanca on 22 July 1812, the 5th Dragoon Guards and the 3rd and 4th Dragoons, all but destroyed General Maucune’s Division, leading to the complete collapse of Marshal Marmont’s and General Clausel’s forces.

the battle of borodino
At the Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812, French cuirassiers charged into the Russian-held Raevsky redoubt.

the battle of lutzen
Napoleon won a costly victory at the Battle of Lutzen on 2 May 1813. Despite driving the enemy from the field, Napoleon lacked the cavalry to be able to mount an effective pursuit of the defeated Russian and Prussian forces.

the battle of leipzig
The Battle of Leipzig on 16-19 October 1813 and on this occasion Marshal Murat’s huge formation of 10,000 cavalry proved too cumbersome and smaller and more manoeuvrable formations of Russian, Prussian, and Austrian cavalry were able to drive the French cavalry back.

the battle of waterloo
The 6th Inniskilling Dragoons formed part of the so-called Union Brigade at the Battle of Waterloo, composed of English, Scottish and Irish regiments of heavy cavalry. The brigade’s charge against the French I Corps is one of the era’s most famous cavalry actions.

Further Reading

(Hardback - 304 pages)
ISBN: 9781848328198

by Digby Smith
Only £25.00

• Dramatic charges of the Napoleonic wars
• Details the different mounted troops of the era and their various roles
• The colour, panache and drama of Napoleonic battle

'If you want to know what it must have been like among the foam and the fetlocks as you drew your sabre for what you feared might be the last time, then this is the book for you.' - Andrew Roberts in The Daily Mail

'A dramatic and spirited…
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