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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Feb, 2007 11:25 am    Post subject: The cavalry caracole         Reply with quote

Can anybody clue me as to the exact meaning of the term "caracole" in the realm of cavalry tactics, or whether it had any such well-defined meaning at all? As I see it, modern writers often use the term in a rather loose manner, sometimes referring to a procedure similar to the infantry "firing by ranks," sometimes to a circular maneuver like the Roman circulus cantabricus, and sometimes even to the static pistol volleys used by some European cavalry (especially Austrians) to repel Turkish cavalry. The problem is that I'm not sure which definitions are right and which are wrong, since I don't know whether any historical manuals actually used the term "caracole" to refer to a specific subset of pistol-based cavalry tactics. I've seen several other terms being used for certain kinds of pistol-based maneuvers but, due to my ignorance (or laziness), I've never really read of "caracole" in those manuals.

Thanks beforehand!
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Feb, 2007 10:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette;

"Caracole" means "snail". It referes to the action of the Cavalrymen who would ride up to the point where the front rank of pistoliers would present their pistols and give fire (preferably about 15 feet from the enemy line), where upon the individuals would then wheel left, and return to the rear along the flanks of their column. They were then in a position to reload their pistols to perform the maneuver again. Complex enough in practice, REALLY difficult under battlefield conditions as you may imagine.

Most of the writers of the era such as Francois de la Noue and Sir Roger Williams condemned such practices, and Henri of Navarre, though relying on the pistol as his Cavalry's primary arm, didn't bother with it, but charged into the opposing ranks with pistols blazing. (Lots of interesting info on how Gustavus Adolphus got his ideas on this, but suffice it to say that he had plenty of influence from Henri of Navarre's successes.)

The tactic was primarily practiced by the German Pistoliers termed "Reiters", contraction of "Schwarzenreiter" (Black rider, from the black and white armour that was popular among them). As one French writer mentioned from being at the receiving end of such a charge, "They are all fire and iron". Effective to some degree (or it would have died out quickly, I would imagine) they were very vulnerable to charges pressed home from the flanks, or simply from the front, by Gendarms or even Demi-Lancers.

I can describe it in more depth if you need, but I'm off to the land of nod for now. Cool

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
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http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Fri 09 Feb, 2007 5:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, there's a much shorter way of describing it to me: is it essentially the same as the infantry maneuver of "firing by advanced rank?" (The joys of reenactor-speak! Wink )

Because, if so, then I must lament the impreciseness that has crept in into military literature in all these years. *sob, sob, bawl*

All right. That's a bit melodramatic. I'm still curious about whether this specific kind of tactical method was really called the "caracole" in period, and whether "caracole" was used to describe only this method or would also include a stationary pistol volley. Could you clue me in about that aspect?
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Fri 09 Feb, 2007 8:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Firing by Advanced Rank"? I can't say that I remember that one from Barriff or Barret, but I've forgotten most of my Infantry drill I must admit.

Anyway... I'll have to dig through Cruso and Walhausen, as well as Williams and de la Noue to find this out for you, but I do believe that the term "Caracole" was current in the period. But it did, as far as I am aware, refer exclusively to the "snail" maneuver of the first rank firing and then retiring to the left, which would be rather akin to an Infantry skirmish order by ranks, if there were ever such a thing.

There WAS a maneuver for Horse that was VERY much like "Right (or Left) File Advance, Rank Inward, and Fire" (the one where the file from the right moves forward and forms a rank, gives fire and then returns to their position). (Check out my compadre Barry Siler's site on "Moving Soldiers" http://syler.com/drillDemo/menu.html , also found here: http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/ ) In the Cavalry maneuver, the outermost file (Right hand file for Pistoliers, Left hand file for Carbineers) rides forward in front of the column, presents and gives fire, and continues on around to the side and rear, returning to their original location. As they leave their position, they are followed by the next file in, to form a continuous fire. It MAY have been also called a Caracole, but I need to dig through Walhausen to find out. (My German is passible with a dictionary handy, but reading fraktur isn't exactly my specialty).

The interesting point in all of this is that the Germans seem to have thought that the Caracole maneuver was sufficient in and of itself, while the French, English and Swedish soldiers and commentators discarded it as a being good for drill, but poor practice in battle. They all seem to have preferred the idea of using the first pistol to dispatch the front ranks of their opponents, and then go to the sword for the melee, saving the second pistol for the rout. Well, usually. Sometimes the second pistol was used during the melee.

Anyway, I'll have to do some digging for you to get down to the origins and period use of the term for you.

Cheers!

Gordon



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"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 09 Feb, 2007 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't worry. I'm looking, too. It's just that I haven't had the luck to locate a precise definition (if any existed) for the term "caracole."

By "firing by advanced ranks," I meant that I read your description of the maneuver in your first reply to be just like the movement from Barriffe as displayed in Barry's site, except that only one rank advanced rather than two as in the infantry maneuver there. Is that correct?

And the alternative maneuver of firing by files is what I meant by the circulus cantabricus. The details do not exactly match, but the basic principle is identical. Somehow that makes me think that it might have been partly another Neoclassical revival. I've never really thought of this maneuver as being the caracole but I might be wrong.

So, it seems like the static pistol volley (without any advancing ranks or files) is not a caracole at all? This makes me want to question that Wikipedia statement about the Battle of Minden.
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Feb, 2007 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette;

I think that part of the problem is the absolute impreciseness of 16th Century terminology. They played pretty fast and loose with terms, so what one writer may refer to as a Caracole, another may think is a static firing with a stately withdrawal. And I've not seen an actuall reference to something that I would consider to being on the order of "firing by files", but you never know, as they were both experimenting with tactics AND with terminology at the time. Confused

There is no doubt some neo-classical resurgence going on here, but I've always felt that there was some connection between the pistolier tactics and those of the Spanish Jinetes, who would rush forward en masse and hurl their javelines at their enemies, then turn and gallop back to their own lines (a VERY Arabic tactic, needless to say). But other than the fact that Charles V was Emperor of Germany and King of Spain at the same time, thus there being a bit of cross-pollenization going on, there is nothing solid in this idea. There is a good solid generation between the expiration of one and the birth of the other though, so it may well just be a wild unsubstantiated theory that goes no where.

But you are right in that the Caracole is much like Barriffe's "Firing by Advanced Ranks" but with a single rank moving forward and then filing off to the side and rear, rather than two files from the sides coming out to form a single rank.

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Feb, 2007 8:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah. Thanks a lot for the confirmation.

BTW, the jinetes' habit of closing in, launching their javelins, and then galloping away was actually a Moorish tactical paradigm, not an Arabic one. The Arabs at the time (or at least the peninsular tribes) were actually noted as being a bit fiercer than most other Islamic horsemen, since they were very fond of swift headlong charges despite their lack of armor and the likelihood that they weren't trained in Persian- or Turkish-style close-order drills. Nothing like the skirmishing Moors. Where the Moors favored the javelin, the Arabs favored--surprise--the light lance.

Now that I think of it, they were a bit like the Cossacks of the Middle East. And the reiters of the Middle East were, perhaps, the well-drilled shower-shooting formations of the Syrian and Egyptian cavalry.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Feb, 2007 3:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As I understand it "caracole" is the word for the turning maneuver used by the horseman, not the act of turning and firing.
In all the texts I've read the "caracole" or turn is a separate action from aiming and firing the weapon.
I've seen the word "caracole" used to simply describe horsemen or troops of cavalry making turns and it has even been used to describe any kind of sharp turn by a body of military troops by some writers. For example Monro use the word to describe a particular manoeuver by the entire army of Gustav Adolf in Pommerian campaign of 1631. However thanks to 19th Century military historians the word has come to denote pistol armed cavalry firing by rank and then falling back to reload.

So a "static pistol volley (without any advancing ranks or files)" is indeed not a caracole, nor would any 16th or 17th Century military writer describe it as such .


The caracole and the mounted use of pistols is probably the one of the most misunderstood of military tactics.
To begin with no one, including the Germans, really believed that making a caracole and firing was an effective method of fighting cavalry, the manoeuver as actually developed as a way to pour fire into the massive infantry formations of the period. Against cavalry the preferred method was to close to point blank range and employ the pistol as melee weapon.

Quote:
"...the perfect Reiter do never discharge their pistols but in joining and striking [close] at hand, they wound, aiming always either at the face or at the tigh.(...) "The one that the Reiter is never so dangerous as when they be mingled with the enemy, for then be they all fire."
(La Noue, full quote here http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p...oue#41407)


The problem was that not all Reiters were "perfect" which led to the front rank(s) firing prematurely at long range (often causing the rear ranks to fire their pistols in the air) followed by the entire cornet turning away from the enemy or even scattering. Essentially 'light cavalry' the Reiters were at a marked disadvantage if their pistol fire failed to break the enemy squadron and the fight got to the point were they had to resort to using swords and maces. This caused a reluctance to close with the enemy and resulted in the behavior mentioned above. These failed "pistol charges" have then been misinterpreted as 'caracoles' by later day historians leading to the myth of the pistol armed cavalry of Western Europe and their ineffective caracole tactics.

Cheers
Daniel
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Feb, 2007 8:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah. Thanks for the information, Daniel.

Daniel Staberg wrote:
The problem was that not all Reiters were "perfect" which led to the front rank(s) firing prematurely at long range (often causing the rear ranks to fire their pistols in the air) followed by the entire cornet turning away from the enemy or even scattering. Essentially 'light cavalry' the Reiters were at a marked disadvantage if their pistol fire failed to break the enemy squadron and the fight got to the point were they had to resort to using swords and maces. This caused a reluctance to close with the enemy and resulted in the behavior mentioned above. These failed "pistol charges" have then been misinterpreted as 'caracoles' by later day historians leading to the myth of the pistol armed cavalry of Western Europe and their ineffective caracole tactics.


Indeed, this phenomenon of the cavalry firing a shot and then retreating or even routing away from the enemy was what I had in mind when I asked the question in the first place, since it happened quite often in European warfare even in the 18th and 19th centuries--but I've never seen it referred to as a "caracole" in any of the primary sources I know.

I guess I can heave a sigh in relief now. Part of my motivation for asking the questions here is because I was engaged in a forum discussion about the last employment of the caracole, and somebody quoted a Wikipedia article referring to its use in the Battle of Minden by the French cavalry. I thought that was odd because the French cavary there fought the British infantry with the sword, and the closet thing I could get was an instance in a different battle where the British cavalry fired their pistols into a French cavalry charge before retreating, though ironically the French also retreated instead of pursuing. The person said "that was a caracole" (though not so nicely) and I insisted that it wasn't. It's good to know that I probably didn't get it wrong.
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 7:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gordon Frye wrote:
the Spanish Jinetes, who would rush forward en masse and hurl their javelines at their enemies, then turn and gallop back to their own lines (a VERY Arabic tactic, needless to say).


Actually Gordon, the original jinetes were a north african tribe. Muslim but not at all 'arabic' and most likely of imazighen (barb) origins. The imazighen were javelin thtowers for centuries both as infantry and cavalry, the most famous being the numidian light cavalry.

The word 'jinette' has been carried into modern spanish and means rider, rijder (dutch), reiter (german), but NOT knight, ritter (german), ridder (dutch), caballero (spanish). The link to the horse 'caballo' is obvious but the roots are very different.

To complete the perspective the riding style of the moorish jinettas was on the reins just like the classical charging cavalries. The truelty spánish riders, the mounted nobility, the caballeros rode on the curb.

I guess it is useless to look back into history and try to apply logic to it to create 'order'. We are looking through the wrong end of the binoculars to small parts of the larger picture. The larger picture being centuries of warfare over the whole of europe by differing peoples with diffrent cultural background, moral -values, - wealth and - technology.

Back to the caracole it is 'my' view that light cavalry needed to be sénsible too if the wanted to survive. Like the numidian cavalry showed they could be usefull for loosing more or less synchonised volleys at the enemy formation and then more or less synchonised fall back minimising their losses.
Wether javelin or bullets, the main reasoning is still the same. As Ceasar wrote about them they gave him 'wonderfull trouble' without significant losses.
A loosly but 'organised' attack and disperse.
The 'Reiter' being largely landless nobility mercanaries that is what would suit them best.

Btw I read a VERY amusing remark in a Dutch manual about the use of cavalry. Their was a specific mention of these 'Reiter'bands of light cavalry to NEVER EVER be tempted to use them to atack the rear of the enemy. If they would run into the baggage train they would be sure to give themselves over to ransacking and 'love' leaving the army brass without light cavalry for probably over a week Laughing Out Loud
Somehow I canot see these 'Reiter' execute a disciplined and rather risky true caracole-manouvre.

Anyway, the caracole has survived in manuals about schooling horses and is a usefull gymnastic technique.

HC
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Feb, 2007 10:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, reiters weren't really landless nobility. Some of them were doubtless noble or gentle, but some were of humble birth--and the noblemen/gentlemen included some fairly distinguished landowners like Torsten Stalhandske. And wasn't von Pappenheim a count?

The funny thing, too, is that it'd be fruitless to categorize reiters as "light" or "heavy" cavalry. The good ones seemed to have qualified as heavies since they used their pistols in the charge, while the poor ones...I wouldn't even call them "light" because what they did wasn't really skirmishing, just firing a shot before running away.

BTW, Peter, could you provide a quote about that not-attacking-the-rear thing? It seems to be a fairly odd advice, since heavy cavalry (reiters or not) were generally meant to fall upon the flank and rear of the enemy. But I can understand the logic, since soldiers (mercenary or not) often got their brains a little addled if they were allowed to come within sight of the enemy's baggage train. I sort of doubt that the advice was meant to apply only to the cavalry.

Actually, I can visualize the reiters doing the "firing by advanced rank" maneuver in front of infantry, since if the infantry tried to catch them with a charge they could just scoot away. The superior firepower of (non-mounted) Shot would have been quite a big problem, though, especially in a real battlefield situation--aside from having longer weapons, a foot formation would have been able to pack more firepower into the same frontage compared to a mounted formation. So it was possible but perhaps a bit suicidal except if done in front of unsupported Pike.
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Feb, 2007 2:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Well, reiters weren't really landless nobility. Some of them were doubtless noble or gentle, but some were of humble birth--and the noblemen/gentlemen included some fairly distinguished landowners like Torsten Stalhandske. And wasn't von Pappenheim a count?

The funny thing, too, is that it'd be fruitless to categorize reiters as "light" or "heavy" cavalry. The good ones seemed to have qualified as heavies since they used their pistols in the charge, while the poor ones...I wouldn't even call them "light" because what they did wasn't really skirmishing, just firing a shot before running away.


Like I wrote, history is a hotchpotch of events and developmenst and not neaty sequentially 'organised'.

Quote:

BTW, Peter, could you provide a quote about that not-attacking-the-rear thing? It seems to be a fairly odd advice, since heavy cavalry (reiters or not) were generally meant to fall upon the flank and rear of the enemy. But I can understand the logic, since soldiers (mercenary or not) often got their brains a little addled if they were allowed to come within sight of the enemy's baggage train. I sort of doubt that the advice was meant to apply only to the cavalry.


Atually it wás specifically about cavalry and even more specific about units that were not called 'light' but were employed as such. I had a very heartly laugh about it and read it to my companion so I am not confused about it either.
The same units were also responsible to provide for their own equipment and their somewhat 'independant' behaviour mentioned, hinted upon, several times.
I will try and find source and quote. I read it in the Netherlands in a library connected with a cavalry museum and since I now live 2300 kilometers and about the whole of Europe away that will need some asking around....

Peter
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Feb, 2007 3:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm. I need to add that the dutch have always een extremely tighfisted about spending any money on a armies.
The whole organisation was fundamentally differant form what english speaking countries are accustomed to.
An army as such was hardly ever employed untill very modern times and could be better described as partly privincial council spronsored millitia, even cíty council sponsored often. The best equiped were sponsored by trade companies and could be called as armed trading personel.

Dutch militairy history is entirely pragmatic, can largly be called private enterprise even, from Roman times on.
For 'Queen (King) and Country' has never been very dutch motivation hence bagage trains were Laughing Out Loud

Peter
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