A Real Army Workhorse
When I wanted to build the first cavalry unit for my French, Dragoons was an obvious choice for two reasons:
First of all, they formed up a large part of Napoleon's cavalry, with a peak in 1804 of 30 whole regiments. They served in many theaters as their combination of mobility and training as foot skirmishes made them versatile troops. They had to be ready to fight on foot: either when broken terrain or urban fighting demanded it, or when the constant lack of horses left them stranded. So for Sharp Practice they make perfect sense, either as cavalry support for your line infantry, or as a mostly Dragoon-based force where you even get some foot soldiers in matching uniforms.
Secondly, there's a very good box of plastic Dragoons from Perry Miniatures. The box comes with 13 mounted and 8 dismounted Dragoons, as well as some French and British casualties. Now, the Brits are a bit wasted on us right now, but I have a creeping suspicion that there's a Russian general somewhere who would like them strewn over our battlefields. However, the Dragoons you get in the box are quite versatile for a Sharp Practice force. The mounted figures make one 8-man unit with pieces for both an additional officer and a musician. The foot soldiers can either make a ranked up unit of Dragons à pied (if you don't mind that the riding boots aren't correct), or a skirmish unit of dismounted Dragoons. The only thing you lack then is a dismounted officer, which I will try to convert later on.
If you add a second box you can use those left-over mounted Dragoons to get three full units, and then you're on your way to a respectable mounted force.
I had decided to paint my Dragoons as the 7e Régiment de Dragons, which entered Russia and fought at Borodino in Grouchy's III Cavalry Corps. They were also at the dreadful battle of Vyazma at the start of the retreat from Moscow. The reason I chose the 7e was partly because they took part in some major actions in Russia, but also because I really like the combination of green and crimson, their facing colour.
If you want to paint French dragoons, there's a great colour guide for their facing colours here.
French cavalry regiments were usually divided into 3-4 squadrons, where each squadron consisted of two companies and led by a captain. The 1st squadron would normally have the elite 1st company, as well as the 5th company. The 2nd squadron would have the 2nd and 6th company, and so on. Some really big regiments would keep on forming more squadrons, as many as 6 or 8. Each squadron would have around 85 to 250 men, but at the end of the Russian campaign there would be entire horse regiments that were struggling to form up mounted troops in numbers that made any difference, practically obliterated.
Painting the Dragoons
I set out to paint my Dragoons as the 1st squadron of the regiment. The elite companies would have bearskins earlier in the wars, but later adopted "normal" helmets but with distinctive plumes. For this first unit I saved the special heads on the sprues for later, and built them as the 5th company.
The uniforms got quite dark green colours, contrasted with red and white. I chose to go with creamy beige breeches and gloves, which I think fits nice with the green and red. There's also tons of gold on their uniforms, which make them really stand out. A festive Christmas-y colour scheme indeed!
The horses were painted black and dark brown, common colours for the 5th company (1st would try to have more black horses). Dragoons were supposed to have the biggest horses after Cuirassiers, but in reality they took what they could find after blistering storms and other harsh conditions had caused havoc with the French supply of horses in Russia. As you might guess, the idea of colour coded horses also fall by the wayside when you have such extreme scarcity, so feel free to mix it up if you're not making your troops for the parade fields.
As mentioned, Dragoons fought dismounted at times, but could also be organized as entire regiments of foot Dragoons. They were equipped with long muskets compared to the short carbines of other cavalry, which often gave them a big advantage in skirmishes.
Dragoons that were formed as Dragons à Pied would be supposed to wear pants and shoes, rather than breeches and riding boots like these. But if you want to make a reasonably realistic Dragoon-heavy SP2 force, I'd say these are great as you'll keep adding foot troops as you assemble your mounted core. And I just think they look great in this colour scheme, a nice colourful distraction after all those white-blue-tan-grey infantrymen in their dull greatcoats.
Next step for my Dragoons is that I really need an officer to lead them! Also, Dragoon reguments had both trumpeteers and drummers, so there are plenty of reasons to play around with conversions. I just started painting the mounted officer that comes in the box, and when I get my second box I'll try to convert one of the dismounted troops into an officer as well. Then we'll see of we can get this tiny cavalry corps rolling!
"Glory is fleeting,