Now that I have finished a basic core of French infantry, I'm looking at expanding the cavalry. When I started to look into the subject, I realized just how little I knew about French cavalry in the Napoleonic era. First of all, there's just so many different kinds of cavalry! And they change over time with new equipment, new uniforms and organization. How could I translate all those things into a small skirmish force? Needless to say, I realized that I had to read up a bit and then make some choices.
I started out with two books that cover cavalry. The first one is the excellent Swords Around A Throne by John Elting. It's just a great source overall for everything in the French army, and the cavalry chapters are just as good.
My second source was a second hand bargain, complete with a smell that said that it might have spent many years in some library cellar: Napoleon's Cavalry and Its Leaders by David Johnson. It puts a lot of emphasis on describing the generals and marshals who led the French cavalry formations, but in a way where descriptions of smaller scale events both on and off the battlefields are covered as well. It was a surprisingly easy read and takes care to flesh out the characters, instead of listing dry facts.
Finally, since we're mostly aiming at the invasion of Russia 1812, I also picked up The Battle of Borodino by Alexander Mikaberidze, to get some more detailed information about the campaign. It's like the oppositve of Johnson's book, spending a ton of time with details and evaluating different sources. Not as fun a read, but plenty informative on the many parts of the battle that were cavalry played a big role.
Revisiting my cavalry plans
What have I learned this far?
First of all, cavalry differed not just in where it was deployed, but at what time during an engagement, for what purposes, and how they would get involved with the enemy. Basically, I don't think that having a small skirmish force with 4-5 different kinds of cavalry at the same tiny spot is all that realistic, historically speaking.
The second issue is that if you want an historical French Napoleonic cavalry skirmish force, you're not guaranteed to be able to include everything you want. Basically, the problem is that cavalry regiments were organized into cavalry brigades which tended to have one or two types of cavalry, and each corps would have different types of cavalry brigades. Personally I see the extreme variety among cavalry types and regimental uniforms as one of the big draws of doing French cavalry. But if I wanted to have my troops come from the same corps, as I first planned, my options are suddenly more limited.
For example, I initially wrote that I planned to have my troops come from Grouchy's III Reserve Cavalry corps, and I painted up my first dragoons as a regiment from that corps. But the rest of that corps was one regiment of Hussars, some regiments of Chasseurs-a-cheval, some Bavarian and Saxon Chevau-légers, aaand... Dragoons. A lot of Dragoons. If I want some Cuirassiers (which I really want after reading David Johnson's book), or French lancers (which I'm painting right now), I'm going to have to give up that idea.
Finally, some of the uniforms really differ a lot. Especially for Hussars, but also for most other troops. And some of the colour combinations just appeal to me more than others, and the idea of forcing myself to paint a less appealing uniform just to fit into the right brigade doesn't sound so fun to me, once I realized just how many hours of painting are in front of me.
This was the point where I decided to give in to the sweet temptation of hedonism. In an unprecedented show of disregard to all that's holy, I'm going to mix regiments that are not even in the same corps. My lancers are going to the 2nd Chevau-léger regiment from Montbrun's II Reserve Cavalry Corps! *gasp*
I know this drastic call must terrify you ("they were on different flanks at Borodino!"), but as there's no historical way to make a force that lets me field all the full splendour of the cavalry, I'll throw away the Orders of Battle and march on. And, maybe in some distant future, I'll have enough regiments anyway to field a small force from a single corps, or even brigade. For now, enjoyment won out over my tabletop OCD.
That doesn't mean I'm giving up completely. I'm only doing regiments that fought in the Russian campaign, and at least in this first round I'm sticking to regiments that took part at the battle of Borodino. We'll see if I'll revisit this when we get some Brits who wants to fight all the Dragoons that were left in Spain.
So what am I getting first? Looking at the stuff I already had, what I got from the Warlord sprue sale, and what I just recently got when I bought a small second hand army still in boxes, I can field the following 8-man units:
3 units of Mounted Dragoons (7th regiment)
2 units of Chevau-légers (French lancers, 2nd regiment)
3 units of Hussars (not decided yet)
4 units of Chasseurs-a-cheval (also not decided)
Which in itself is definitely enough for an all-mounted force in Sharp Practice 2. In addition, I'd love to extend the lancers with a second rank armed with pistols, sabres and carbines, and I also want to add Cuirassiers for some really heavy cavalry. Finally, as always, I need more officers because I always have too few officers for SP2.
Here's a quick view of the madness as I built most of the horses (there's like 30 more):
I plan to work in batches of 16 cavalrymen, and for now I'm testing to paint them with the riders glued on from the start. The lancers are the smallest formation, so they got to go first. I already got to the stage where they mostly need some highlights and some work on the horses:
I hope I'm not going to regret this project soon.
Wish me luck.
"Glory is fleeting,