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Andrew Huang




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Nov, 2017 11:18 pm    Post subject: 1400s-1800s-Heavy cav- why from Lance to pistol to sword?         Reply with quote

I have a question on why Heavy Cavalry evolved from the 1400s into the Renaissance era of warfare, through the colonial age, all the way to the Napoleonic Wars.

Typically Heavy Cavalry in the Medieval era to the Renaissance would have Armored men with lances. However the Germans quickly adopted the pistol replacing the lance. The French still kept the lance until the Wars of Religion where French lancer cavalry were slaughtered by pistol wielding horsemen. These pistol wielding troops would use a combo of pistol and sword to defeat their knightly opponents.

However after that pistoliers started to die out and Heavy cavalry just armed with the sword(cuiraseers) and that was the dominant cavalry force in the Napoleonic wars. Lancers did make a comeback however they did not have the same shock as the Sword armed Cuiraseers. Yes there were pistol armed Napoleonic cavalry however they were mainly light cavalry and easily were routed by the Curiaseers.

Why this transition. Why didn't Napoleonic Curiaseers fight like Reiters of the past?

Andy Huang
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Glen A Cleeton




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Nov, 2017 4:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lancers continued into the 20th century and units of many countries not at all uncommon during the 19th century. The evolution of any army through the centuries had a lot to do with overall tactics, which did indeed respond to the advent of firearms. You might note that the French and others developed different swords for different units. While the lancers were no longer being used as heavy cavalry, others were using long straight swords which prevailed over the decades. Lancers becoming supplemental in mopping up more than involved in line charges. Or, in instances where opposition was deemed less concentrated. There were even lancer units during the American Civil War.

The French cuirasiers, carabiniers and dragons were all fielding the long straight swords for a time with both heavy and light cavalry adopting sabres.

So, the evolution in early modern times probably better regards pike squares and overall tactics developing in the 16th and 17th century. Bring on the more massive use of firearms and pikes are replaced with muskets, then rifles. More artillery then modifying tactics again. So it is not really that lancers went away but more a sense of diversity and the fluidity of military campaigns.

Cheers

GC
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Andrew Huang




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Nov, 2017 3:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know lancers did come back, that wasn't my point.

I was wondering why Napoleonic Cuirassers didn't fight like Reiters with the pistol against other cavalry when it worked well in the past.Was it simply their speed of horses changed and Knights of past were slower?

Andy Huang
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Glen A Cleeton




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Nov, 2017 4:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Because the French had dragons and carabiniers?

Cheers

GC
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 12:50 am    Post subject: Re: 1400s-1800s-Heavy cav- why from Lance to pistol to sword         Reply with quote

Andrew Huang wrote:
I have a question on why Heavy Cavalry evolved from the 1400s into the Renaissance era of warfare, through the colonial age, all the way to the Napoleonic Wars.

Typically Heavy Cavalry in the Medieval era to the Renaissance would have Armored men with lances. However the Germans quickly adopted the pistol replacing the lance. The French still kept the lance until the Wars of Religion where French lancer cavalry were slaughtered by pistol wielding horsemen. These pistol wielding troops would use a combo of pistol and sword to defeat their knightly opponents.

However after that pistoliers started to die out and Heavy cavalry just armed with the sword(cuiraseers) and that was the dominant cavalry force in the Napoleonic wars. Lancers did make a comeback however they did not have the same shock as the Sword armed Cuiraseers. Yes there were pistol armed Napoleonic cavalry however they were mainly light cavalry and easily were routed by the Curiaseers.

Why this transition. Why didn't Napoleonic Curiaseers fight like Reiters of the past?

Hi Andrew,

you might want to re-read a list of what Napoleonic cavalry were armed with. You will find that most of them had at least two firearms and often used them on horseback- and that includes the cavalry with breastplates (at least on paper).

One of the 'selling points' of the pistol had been that it was more effective against armour than the lance or the sword. But by the 18th century, most cavalry were naked or at best half armed. And that made swords and lances effective again. Also, in the meantime infantry had acquired more and better firearms, so it made less sense for cavalry to get into a firefight with infantry. A squadron of reiters in armour of proof with three or four wheelock pistols each might give as good as they got to a battle of mostly pikemen with a few matchlock arquebuses loaded slowly with loose powder. Once all the foot had firelocks and paper cartridges, and were accompanied by guns on good carriages, the horse were never going to break up the infantry with fire.

If you want to learn more, you will need print books and academic articles, but two pretty good web resources are:
http://myArmoury.com/feature_lancepistol.html
http://napolun.com/mirror/web2.airmail.net/na...oleon.html
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 5:26 am    Post subject: Re: 1400s-1800s-Heavy cav- why from Lance to pistol to sword         Reply with quote

To put it rather simplistically: Western European cavalry began to shift from the pistol to the sword around the mid-17th century because firearm-proof armour was getting so heavy that fewer and fewer people were wearing it; in other words, the proportion of lightly-armoured or even completely unarmoured troops was growing, and swords were just as effective against such opponents as pistols were. It's worth noting that cavalry pistols were not particularly long-ranged, and in the heyday of the pistol cavalry (the end of the 16th and first few decades of the 17th centuries) the usual paradigm was to use the pistol at the same range as the sword in order to increase accuracy and penetration against armoured foes. Now that armoured foes were becoming less common, it made sense to shift to a weapon that had pretty much the same reach and inflicted just as much damage against unarmoured targets -- and could be used repeatedly without having to worry about reloading in the middle of a combat situation. Swords fit this description perfectly.

By the Napoleonic era, even the heaviest cavalry only had cuirasses and helmets. The sword could still injure them in the face, neck, arms, armpit, and just about everything under the waist. Not to mention the horse. Another important thing is that such heavy cavalry in the early 19th century were largely trained to fight and attack in close formation, and in many cases they weren't highly proficient at fighting in disorganised melees. So while they had the advantage as long as they managed to maintain their formation, they became more vulnerable if the combat broke up into a swirling mass of individual encounters where lighter cavalry could use the superior agility of their horses to counterbalance the cuirassiers' weight of armour.

Pistols didn't regain their dominance until the appearance of revolvers in the mid-19th century, which greatly eased the problem of reloading and extended the accurate/effective range of the pistol (thanks to rifling) to maybe 20 meters or so -- somewhat beyond the reach of swords and lances. Even then it was still possible (though not exactly easy) for sword- or lance-armed cavalry to defeat revolver-armed cavalry if they were willing to accept casualties while charging in. The development of affordable and reliable breech-loading carbines also contributed because the breechloaders of the mid-19th century onwards could be reloaded much faster and much more easily on horseback than older muzzle-loading weaponry.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 1:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As LCC mentions, ideally the pistol was used as essentially a melee weapon. The "paradox" as La Noue put it was that if a squadron of reiters attempted to fire their weapons from a distance in a caracole they would do little damage and be easily overrun by lancers, but if the reiters were perfectly trained and did not shoot until they were literally mixed with the enemy then they would be "all fire" and overthrow even well armoured lancers.

The practice of charging sword in hand, using the pistol only as a secondary weapon apparently began with (edit: Henry of Navarre) at the tail end of the 1500s. I don't think there's a clear reason given, but I suspect it was intended to ensure curiasser would finished charging home before using their pistols in melee or in the chase. When charging pistol in hand the temptation to fire too early may have been too great for most troops.

The other tactical change in the late 1500s was that doing away with the lance allowed horsemen to fight in much deeper formations, whereas lancers had mostly been restricted to attacking one rank at a time. Even if less well equipped, a colomn of curiasser with swords could easily break through a thin line of lancers. Then once they got through pistols could attack in any direction and with full force, unlike Lance's which could only really attack in a straight line and relied on the speed of the horse for their power.


Last edited by Henry O. on Thu 16 Nov, 2017 8:39 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Andrew Huang




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 4:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thought Reiters fired their pistols while charging like a long range lance rather than use them in melee.
https://myArmoury.com/feature_lancepistol.html

It seems like it being mainly a shift in tactics. Medieval and Reinnisance battles were smaller were singular lines of lancers could shift an charge. Napoleonic battles could have tens of thousands of cavalry clashing where killing the front rank is not as important. Cuiraseers easily shrugged off lance charges.

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 5:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew Huang wrote:
I thought Reiters fired their pistols while charging like a long range lance rather than use them in melee.
https://myArmoury.com/feature_lancepistol.html

It seems like it being mainly a shift in tactics. Medieval and Reinnisance battles were smaller were singular lines of lancers could shift an charge. Napoleonic battles could have tens of thousands of cavalry clashing where killing the front rank is not as important. Cuiraseers easily shrugged off lance charges.


There was a lot of experimentation during this period and firing pistols during the charge did happen. The issue however is that shooting accurately from a galloping horse in combat is extremely difficult, La Noue estimated that it rarely hit anything beyond 3 yards. Thus his solution was for the reiters to absorbe the first blow of the lances and only fire once they were close enough to aim at the enemy's thigh or face, where the armor is weakest.

He also noted that firing during the charge tended to encourage the rest of the ranks to fire prematurely:

"An other custome by them obserued is, that when the first ranckes of the squadron begin to shoote, all the rest doth likewise discharge, and most of them in the ayre. Peraduenture they imagine their great noyse should terrifie the enemie, which perhaps it would doe if they were sheepe or crowes. But French men and Spanyards are not so easely daunted. The inconuenience that riseth hereof is this, that the last ranckes which should thrust forward the first, seeing that they haue discharged in vayne, doe in liew of going forward, stand still, and are sooner amazed then they that be at the head and in all the daunger:"

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A05074.0001.001/1:5.18.1?rgn=div3;view=fulltext

Somewhat interestingly, he makes the distinction that in one-on-one combat a reiter should do his best to stay out of a lancer's reach and fight from a distance. However a large squadron can't turn or maneuver as easily as a single horseman and it becomes too easy for a feigned retreat to turn into a real one.

Edit: Here's an etching of a 30YW cavalry battle by Jacques Callot showing a chaotic melee with pistols and swords.

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Andrew Huang




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 8:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So how were the Huguenots able to defeat French cavalry?
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 16 Nov, 2017 8:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The victory of reiters over lancers wasn't always consistant in the late 16th century. Sir Roger Williams felt that the early victories of french protestant cavalry were due to their quality.

"True it is, the great Captaine the Admirall Chatillion, chose often to fight, and would haue diuers or the most of his horse∣men to bee armed, wyth one Pistoll and a good Cur∣tilace: hee had great reason, for the most of his follo∣wers on horsebacke were Gentlemen of qualitie, or resolute Souldiours that fought for the Religion." Otherwise in his experience it was uncommon for lancers to give ground before pistoliers since most would just stop in place and fire their pistols from a distance, to little effect.

Also I made a mistake earlier, it was apparently Henry IV of France (Henry of Navarre at the time) who first started ordering his cavalry to charge with swords drawn only. And he eventually did manage to win himself the crown. ("Eminence over Efficacy: Social Status and Cavalry Service in Sixteenth-Century France" by Treva J. Tucker)
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Geoffroy Gautier





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PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2017 4:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, at least as French cavalry goes, even Cuirassiers had pistols. First, because there are An IX and An XIII patterns of pistol, meant for the cavarly, and second, because Cuirassiers have two symetrical "pockets" (actually more like protective flaps covering a sort of holster) on the front of their saddles (known in French as "fontes" or "fontes de selle"), just above their knees, and these were used to put their pistols. Dragons, Carabiniers and Grenadiers à Cheval had short muskets, but I believe they also had the pockets on the saddle. So all the heavy cavalry was supposed to have at least some firepower, at least in theory. I guess supplying such a huge army was really a significant manufacturing and logistic challenge.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2018 7:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew Huang wrote:
So how were the Huguenots able to defeat French cavalry?


If by "French" you mean Catholic cavalry . . . why shouldn't they be able to? They had pistols capable of penetrating at least the weaker parts of armour (especially the visor and thighs) better than lances, and at least under Henry IV they often had the discipline to hold their fire until they got into hand-to-hand combat range (pretty much the only range where the pistol was effective).

If you're serious about researching this, try getting a copy of this article through a nearby university or library:

“All the King’s Horsemen”: The Equestrian Army of Henri IV, 1585-1598 (Ronald S. Love. The Sixteenth Century Journal. Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 510-533)

it's getting rather dated, especially in the amount of attention it gives to the so-called "caracole" (which we now know to be not only ineffective but also not a particularly important part in the the tactical repertoire of contemporary firearm cavalry), but I think the general line of the thesis still stands.
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Nicky G




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2018 9:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/02/cavalry-swords-before-pistols/

This is a good read with regards to why cold steel preservered into the gunpowder era
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2018 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Unfortunately, while that article is correct about 18th-century pistols, its statements don't always apply universally to earlier periods. 18th-century cavalry pistols were short with large-calibre barrels firing large slow lead balls intended to damage unprotected flesh, so their accurate range was very short and they had very little penetrative power. Late 16th- and early 17th-century cavalry pistols, on the contrary, often had fairly long barrels; some had the same barrel length as contemporary carbines and cavalry arquebuses, the main difference being the lack of a chest/shoulder stock. They were also often loaded with smaller steel balls fired at a higher velocity. This gave them far better armour penetration and also somewhat better accuracy over the short ranges over which they were meant to be fired (roughly about the same as the reach of a sword or lance). Ironically, the later 18th-century cavalry often fired at longer ranges than their 16th- and 17th-century predecessors, which exacerbated the problem of their shorter pistols' lower accuracy and stopping power.

The sword and pistol weren't exclusive to each other either. One of the most notable instances for the use of both was, again, Henri IV; some sources suggest that he instructed his Huguenot cavalry to charge with swords drawn to make sure that they weren't tempted to waste their pistols' shots at too long a range, and then to draw their pistols and fire once they were in the midst of hand-to-hand combat. This required a great deal of both nerve and discipline but paid off handsomely since it played right into the strengths of the late 16th-century cavalry pistol.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2018 1:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
it's getting rather dated, especially in the amount of attention it gives to the so-called "caracole" (which we now know to be not only ineffective but also not a particularly important part in the the tactical repertoire of contemporary firearm cavalry), but I think the general line of the thesis still stands.


It was presumably very useful against stationary targets like infantry, giving the horsemen a way to still deal damage even when the footmen were protected by pikes or sharpened stakes, etc. And in theory the smoothbore pistol or carbine itself was fairly accurate, the Graz tests found that an antique flintlock pistol fired from a mechanical rest wasn't "that" much worse than a modern Glock at 30 m. It's just that shooting accurately in combat and from the back of a moving was an extremely difficult skill to master.

Anyways, I've been looking the reason there was so much interest in the "caracole" a bit more and it seems that it has to do with the fact that pistolers were sometimes light cavalry and sometimes heavy cavalry (even writers the time seemed to get confused about this). In the late 16th century the theory was that in a battle or skirmish you would ideally combat enemy cavalry by combining both light cavalry (typically armed with pistols or arquebuses) and heavy cavalry (typically lancers or men at arms) of your own. The light cavalry would lead the attack while the squadron of heavy cavalry would remain in place some distance behind, perhaps 100 or 200 yards. Once the light horsemen were repulsed they would fall back behind the reserve while the presence of the heavy lancers kept the enemy from pursuing further, giving the light cavalry time to reform and attack again. With this in mind, if performed well the caracole makes perfect sense, a relatively small or loose formation of pistoliers or arquebusiers could charge forward, deliver a lot of fire in a very short period of time and then have plenty of room to retreat, reform and reload their weapons without having the enemy right on their heels.

As the lance fell out of use, however, the pistoliers were shifted into the heavy cavalry role while mounted arquebusiers/carbiners remained as light cavalry. So when an army's cavalry consisted entirely of arquebusiers and pistoliers, the arquebusiers would lead the attack, skirmishing from a distance or performing caracoles while the pistoliers remained behind in good order to act as a reserve and didn't caracole at all (or at least weren't supposed to). This is why for example Mendoza argued that a combination of mounted arquebusiers, who had greater range and penetration, and lancers, who he felt were stronger during the initial shock and could carry pistols as sidearms, had the advantage over pistoliers alone. Many treatises make things even more complex and describe arranging cavalry with arquebusiers in front, pistoliers behind, lancers behind them, and Men at arms in the rear, and then recommend mixing and matching if not all those are available. So if you only have arquebusiers and pistoliers you should use the arquebusiers to lead the attack and leave the pistoliers behind to second them. If you only have lancers and men-at arms then you should treat the lancers as your skirmishers/light cavalry and the men at arms as your heavy cavalry. etc.

In either case, most in western Europe seem to have reached the conclusion that carrying both a lance and a pistol added too much weight and hassle and offered little to no advantages over a pistol alone, even for heavy cavalry. You also see the training and equipment of pistoliers becoming more and more specialized to fit a heavy cavalry role. The arquebusiers were given extremely light armor and horses that were small, fast and nimble, while the pistoliers were given increasingly heavy armor and very large, strong horses to support their weight and the shock of the charge, but because their swords and pistols were just as effective when charging at a trot or a cantor as a gallop (unlike lances) their horses didn't need to be quite as fast. This is the point where the traditional "caracole", among cuirassers at least, becomes well and truly dead and is presumably why John Cruso only describes mounted arquebusers being taught to fire by rank, not cuirassers.

---

Anyways as a thought, perhaps part of the reason the lance continued to be used in Poland for so much longer than the west is that they encountered groups of enemy cavalry in wide open areas much more often, and as a result a reserve of heavy lancers was useful to second their mounted marksmen and prevent the enemy cavalry from pursuing during a skirmish.


---

Also, while cavalry largely returned to focusing on the reliability of the sword after armor disappeared by the 18th century, it continued to be almost universal for cavalry to carry at least one or two pistols in saddle holsters as sidearms. While they were typically no longer used during the charge itself there are hints that they were still considered extremely useful during the melee or pursuit afterwords. At the Battle of Cowpens, Colonel William Washington's life was saved when an unnamed soldier with a pistol shot a British Trooper who was about to cut him down. Then Tarleton himself reportedly drew his pistol and shot Washington's horse, which is what allowed Tarleton to escape the battlefield with his life.

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2018 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Forget the so-called caracole. We only have a few accounts of it ever actually taking place in combat compared to more intuitive modes of engagement such as simply charging in and firing point-blank in the melee or dismounting and firing at a distance (for cavalry with long arms like the carbine or arquebus). And an inconveniently large proportion of those accounts show it being an unsuccessful method with the firing formation being routed when the enemy charged while it was reloading (or when it got disorganised because the rotation system didn't work as it should).

On the whole, the "caracole" represented a rather small and insignificant aspect of cavalry engagements at the time, and it seems like 19th- and 20th-century writers blew it out of proportion because they thought early modern cavalry had to have some way of letting everybody in the formation shoot somehow (when in fact that didn't seem to have been a high priority for actual 16th/17th-century cavalry).

Another huge factor is that there seems to have been too much enthusiasm to label any kind of fire action a "caracole." For instance, we have a fair number of accounts for the English Civil War where defending cavalry stood their ground and repelled an incoming charge with close-range fire. On a few occasions they even did so repeatedly in the same battle/encounter. But they simply stayed in place and reloaded in their stationary position rather than doing any fancy rank-rotation "caracole" drill. There were also other instances where the defending cavalry fired when charged but could not stand their ground and fled. There was just one volley, no rank rotation, no sustained engagement, ergo no "caracole." But 20th-century historian labelled it a "caracole" somehow.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2018 5:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Forget the so-called caracole. We only have a few accounts of it ever actually taking place in combat compared to more intuitive modes of engagement such as simply charging in and firing point-blank in the melee or dismounting and firing at a distance (for cavalry with long arms like the carbine or arquebus). And an inconveniently large proportion of those accounts show it being an unsuccessful method with the firing formation being routed when the enemy charged while it was reloading (or when it got disorganised because the rotation system didn't work as it should).

On the whole, the "caracole" represented a rather small and insignificant aspect of cavalry engagements at the time, and it seems like 19th- and 20th-century writers blew it out of proportion because they thought early modern cavalry had to have some way of letting everybody in the formation shoot somehow (when in fact that didn't seem to have been a high priority for actual 16th/17th-century cavalry).

Another huge factor is that there seems to have been too much enthusiasm to label any kind of fire action a "caracole." For instance, we have a fair number of accounts for the English Civil War where defending cavalry stood their ground and repelled an incoming charge with close-range fire. On a few occasions they even did so repeatedly in the same battle/encounter. But they simply stayed in place and reloaded in their stationary position rather than doing any fancy rank-rotation "caracole" drill. There were also other instances where the defending cavalry fired when charged but could not stand their ground and fled. There was just one volley, no rank rotation, no sustained engagement, ergo no "caracole." But 20th-century historian labelled it a "caracole" somehow.


I'd disagree. They could dismount and fight effectively on foot if the terrain and situation permitted but I think there's quite a lot of evidence that harquebusiers skirmished from horseback quite a bit and were considered quite effective at it in the 16th century. Even in the 1600s they continued to be treated as a different type of cavalry than true dragoons (though Cruso thought dragoons should be taught to fire their muskets from horseback as well). It's just that we often aren't given much detail when it comes to light cavalry actions in general.

Using "caracole" as just a general term for firing one rank at a time, even those who were critical of it in the 16th century claimed that it was a common sight in skirmishes and battles at the time and typically were only critical of a certain variation of the tactic or when it was used in certain situations and, for example, still wanted their "forlorn hope" of harquebusiers to lead the way.

The two variations of the tactic which are described most often and most favorably I think are perfectly suited for skirmishes so long as the horsemen are light and fast and have some way to keep the enemy from pursuing them too far:

The first one involved the main body of cavalry remaining stationary some distance away while the first rank galloped forward anywhere from 30 yards to just outside of the enemy pikes' reach, fired their weapons, and then retreated to the rear to reload while the second rank launched their attack. The irony is that this method isn't really specific to firearms in the first place and could be used by light cavalry armed with swords or lances just as easily to make probing attacks. In many ways it's much closer to the old medieval technique of attacking "in haie" than the large squadron formations which gave the reiters their strength. La Noue spent a whole chapter discussing the advantages of attacking in squadrons vs attacking in single lines, but he still ended by mentioning the situations where he thought the old method was still useful:

Quote:
Let vs now see whether the auncient order bee in these dayes no whit to be practised. I think it may be vsed in two occasions. First when we send forth twentie or thirtie speares, for that troupe being so small may better fight in haie, where it maketh most shew. Se∣condly, when wee come to charge the footmen, it is good to diuide a squadron into many small troupes in file, which may assayle in sundrie places. But except these two occasions, I would wish the horse alwayes to keepe this order of squadrons.


The second method and the one that seems to have been associated with the reiters in particular was essentially just fire and retreat. The squadron would all charge forward, then when they got near the enemy each man would rapidly wheel about to the right or left allowing every rank to fire and retreat in quick succession until they have made it back to safety and can reform and reload all at the same time. As you've mentioned in some cases this may have just been a failed charge where the horsemen panicked and fired into the air before running away, but fire-and-retreat was an essential part of light cavalry tactics, especially harquebusiers, and could easily be done in a fairly small or loose formation. Writers who still see pistoliers as subordinate to lancers state outright that they should be trained to fire their pistols at an approaching enemy and run away, and this would work perfectly fine as long as they were could perform the maneuver quickly enough and had a squadron of heavy cavalry to keep the enemy from pursuing while they stop to reload and get ready to attack again.

Edit: so again I think the problem is that this tactic was only intended to be used by reiters who were "light cavalry" and not reiters who were "heavy cavalry" if that makes sense.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 04 Mar, 2018 1:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm afraid it still doesn't make sense. What's with this obsession with rotating fire schemes, really? We do have a considerable amount of fairly detailed information on how light cavalry fought -- not just prescriptive ones in manuals but also descriptive ones from memoirs and letters/reports. And what we see from the latter is that contemporary skirmishing firearm cavalry generally didn't need rotating fire schemes in order to be able to skirmish effectively.

The thing is, rotating fire is only necessary if the whole squadron skirmishes as a body, and this was extremely rare. In actual practice, "light" cavalry usually fought in smaller detachments of squad or platoon size in modern terms, and these detachments were generally too small to do any kind of rotating fire. This was also one reason why they so often fought dismounted when they wanted to use their fire -- it was much easier to find good cover for such small numbers and for their horses as well. Not to mention that getting these small detachments to mount back up if necessary was much, much easier than doing the same with entire companies/squadrons.

We also see a fair number of instances where these small light cavalry detachments fired on horseback but not on the move -- they simply held ground, fired, and reloaded and fired again if necessary. Much simpler than rotating fire, much less risk of confusion, much easier to shift into other formations or manoeuvres rather than having to completely reorganise the whole frakking squadron in the middle of a caracole.

Rotating fire also has some very, very serious weaknesses. Against cavalry, any attack that wasn't pressed home carried the risk of succumbing to a countercharge, and this is exactly what happened whenever people were stupid enough to try a "caracole" against opposing cavalry. This is also probably the reason why even prescriptive manuals don't show the use of rotating fire against cavalry, only against infantry.

But even against infantry it was never a particularly good idea in the first place. The infantry had far greater density of fire in the same frontage (even if the Shot was forced to interleave with the pike in order to take shelter behind the latter's weapons) and their weapons generally had longer accurate and effective ranges than the cavalry carbine, so a prolonged skirmish against an infantry force with any sizable contingent of Shot was likely to produce more severe attrition against the cavalry skirmishers than against the infantry over time.

Once again, we only see skirmishing fire by "light" cavalry having any effect against infantry when it accompanied a charge, not when it was done in its own right. And in these cases the "light" cavalry often didn't bother to circulate and reload -- they drew their swords and joined the charge of the "heavier" cavalry.

So it doesn't make sense. There were so many better things to do than the so-called "caracole" and we have plenty of evidence that real light cavalry -- rather than theoretical figures in books -- did these other things instead. Paying too much attention to the caracole reveals more about our own modern preconceptions and preoccupations than about the actual tactics used back in the Renaissance and the early modern era.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sun 04 Mar, 2018 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I bring it up mainly because people at the time were fascinated with these sorts of tactics. And they were for hundreds of years, even going back to the small conrois of Norman knights throwing volleys of lances into the saxon shield wall at hastings. It's just that during the 1500s people became interested in writing drills down in more detail and putting a sort of mathematical/geometrical spin on everything.

Whether light cavalry is attacking as individual ranks, files, or as small detachments they still need some degree of organization and skill to coordinate their attacks in order to avoid interfering with each other and the caracole was one way to achieve this. When you have larger armies and more light cavalry operating at once in a single battle you need even more coordination to fight effectively prevent a rout from cascading out of control, even if the horsemen are still divided into small detachments.

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Rotating fire also has some very, very serious weaknesses. Against cavalry, any attack that wasn't pressed home carried the risk of succumbing to a countercharge, and this is exactly what happened whenever people were stupid enough to try a "caracole" against opposing cavalry. This is also probably the reason why even prescriptive manuals don't show the use of rotating fire against cavalry, only against infantry.


Even putting aside the obvious "well, the Mongols would have disagreed", that doesn't fit at all with the evolution of european cavalry though, since even with pistols armored horsemen had an enormous advantage in shock action or a melee over unarmored horsemen. If they could always be sure to catch fleeing enemy horsemen then they would have remained essentially invincible and made any sort of light cavalry completely useless, yet instead even "heavy" cavalry stops wearing any sort of armor during the early modern period.

And we see light cavalry being used to harass or slow down enemy cavalry all the time. If anything it seems to be the number one purpose of the mounted arquebusier/carabiner. It's the reason Sir James Turner gives for teaching dragoons to shoot from horseback, so if they are caught out in the open by cavalry they can fire while retreating until they reach defensible ground where they can dismount. Even Fredrick the Great's Instructions mention the use of hussars firing carbines from horseback to screen larger maneuvers.

And again the difference between the second type of caracole and any horseman planning a hit and run is just a matter of degrees. If a single rank of cavalry or a single cavalryman is planning to fire and retreat then he is essentially performing a 1-rank caracole. If you have a two ranks planning to attack and then retreat then they will need to perform something similar to a 2-rank caracole etc. You could potentially keep adding more and more ranks to increase the concentration of fire, but the more ranks you add the more difficult it becomes to pull of the retreat quickly. So the ideal size of the formation just depends of how much trust the commander has in the skill and training of his light cavalry, it's not just a matter of all or none.

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
But even against infantry it was never a particularly good idea in the first place. The infantry had far greater density of fire in the same frontage (even if the Shot was forced to interleave with the pike in order to take shelter behind the latter's weapons) and their weapons generally had longer accurate and effective ranges than the cavalry carbine, so a prolonged skirmish against an infantry force with any sizable contingent of Shot was likely to produce more severe attrition against the cavalry skirmishers than against the infantry over time.


You could use this same argument to claim that cavalry should never attack infantry ever, since the footmen would always have a far greater density of swords, lances, bows, etc. for any given area.

The range advantage of the musket over the carbine wouldn't be as as significant if the carbine has a horse to quickly close the distance (though it would be if the carbiner dismounted). Also while the musket might be fairly accurate that doesn't guarantee that the man is going to be, especially when he has a bunch of large horses charging straight at him. firing a hail of pistol bullets and buckshot. Additionally, because the cavalry is more mobile they can more easily concentrate successive attacks against a single point or quickly respond to where they perceive the enemy to be weak. And you can't just charge into melee with the enemy on unarmored horses if there are a bunch of pikes or some other obstacle in the way.

Shooting from horseback wasn't always done even by light cavalry, but it was far from useless or unimportant.
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