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Henry O.





Joined: 18 Jun 2016

Posts: 146

PostPosted: Tue 21 Jun, 2016 12:58 pm    Post subject: Role of pistols in napoleonic cavalry warfare?         Reply with quote

In the 16th century heavy lancers were widely replaced by reiters carrying two pistols to be fired at close range. Eventually the caracole tactic fell out of use in favor of charging in with swords after the initial volley, but pistols remained an important weapon for delivering the initial charge and being used to shoot enemies just out of reach while in melee. During the Napoleonic wars flintlock pistols were presumably lighter and more reliable than the wheellocks used in earlier periods yet cavalry is generally shown as charging and fighting with swords only. Why is that?
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Steven Lussenburg





Joined: 20 May 2013

Posts: 20

PostPosted: Tue 21 Jun, 2016 2:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My guess would be the lack of accuracy of pistols compared with muskets and the fact that it'd be very hard to reload them while riding a horse.

More importantly, is there really a tactical advantage of a horseman firing a pistol over a frontal charge? Horses are scary (and big!) and so are pointy metal things. If your infantry can bring all the fire power you want to bear, the cavalry can do the thing it's best at: shock and cold steel.

A final random thought is of course that we're talking about the heavy cavalry here, the cuirassiers etc. other horsemen like the Fench Grenadiers au Cheval and other dragoon regiments did use gunpowder weapons.

So I'd say there are 3 reasons: practical concerns (the caracole was creative but not very practical it seems), tactical (infantry offers better firepower, cavalry more shock power) and Napoleonic cavalry seems to have been more specialised than early Renaissance cavalry.
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Mark Griffin




Location: The Welsh Marches, in the hills above Newtown, Powys.
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Jun, 2016 3:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

a few points (from someone with a bit of experience doing these things..) 1. You don't need to re-load a sword 2. Its damn near impossible to load a pistol at anything other than a complete stop or a slow walk over decent ground, 3 swords don't fail in the wet.
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Zoltan Vecsernyes





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PostPosted: Wed 22 Jun, 2016 10:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the reiter era, both the reiters and their (cavalry)opponents were usually heavily armored. The reiters used their pistols as a (very)close-range one-shot armor-piercing weapon. In the napoleonic-era, very few combatants used armor, max breastplate and open-faced helmet (cuirassiers), but even their legs, arms, and faces were unprotected against edged weapons, so the need for pistols was low.

Against infantry, the pistol only useful when the (more numerous) enemy cant reach you with ranged weapons ( pikemen/halberdiers/swordsmen etc.) . In the napoleonic era, against the musket-armed infantry with their better range and numerical advantage, the effects of pistols were negligible ( mostly).

And visually, a closing cavalry armed with sort batons(pistols) is less frightening, compared to one with long, shiny, sharp or pointy metallic things.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 26 Jun, 2016 3:37 pm    Post subject: Re: Role of pistols in napoleonic cavalry warfare?         Reply with quote

Henry O. wrote:
In the 16th century heavy lancers were widely replaced by reiters carrying two pistols to be fired at close range.


Not exactly replaced. They coexisted and competed for several decades, and the lancers' decline might have had as much to do with economics (since full lancers had to have horse armour, and even demi-lancers on unarmoured horses needed better mounts than pistol-armed cuirassiers and reiters).


Quote:
Eventually the caracole tactic fell out of use in favor of charging in with swords after the initial volley,


The so-called "caracole" was never a particularly important method for pistol-armed cavalry. Mid-16th century reiters ideally just charged and then fired their pistols in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. Firing outside hand-to-hand contact and then wheeling back or retreating to reload was something done by poor units with low morale.

And of course the evidence we have don't really support the meaning we normally ascribe to the word "caracole." Cruso's manual from 1630 or so described the "Caracoll" as a manoeuvre where a unit split in two to the left and right upon being charged by the enemy and then closed back in from both sides once the enemy had been sucked into the trap. No indication of firing and then circling around to reload.


Quote:
but pistols remained an important weapon for delivering the initial charge and being used to shoot enemies just out of reach while in melee.


Not "just out of reach." The pistol was ideally fired at an enemy within reach -- if possible with the muzzle pressed right against their armour or body. It wasn't a "ranged" weapon. It was more of a hand-to-hand/melee weapon with a gunpowder-propelled projectile inside.


Quote:
During the Napoleonic wars flintlock pistols were presumably lighter and more reliable than the wheellocks used in earlier periods yet cavalry is generally shown as charging and fighting with swords only. Why is that?


"Lighter" also meant "less powerful." This was a trend already visible towards the middle and end of the 17th century -- as fewer and fewer enemy soldiers (both infantry and cavalry) wore armour, the old-fashioned powerful armour-piercing pistol became something of an overweight and cumbersome weapon, like how modern soldiers today might treat battle rifles like the FAL or the M14. Pistols became shorter and less powerful, and fired slower, larger balls that were meant to do more damage against unarmoured flesh (rather than the relatively small, hard, high-velocity balls fired by old-fashioned pistols to penetrate armour). At the same time, the increased abandonment of armour also made swords more useful against a larger proportion of enemies.So the old-fashioned pistol now became a heavy, cumbersome, and overpowered weapons against predominantly unarmoured enemies, and the sword asserted its dominance once more against the same unarmoured enemies.
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