Two French Hussars on Patrol in Winter - Auguste Raffet
"My friend, any hussar who does not die by thirty is a blackguard..." - Antoine Charles Louis de Lasalle
Hussars were a type of light cavalry, tasked with typical light cavalry duties such as scouting, foraging and harassing exposed enemy troops. But unlike the less flashy Chasseurs-a-cheval, the first regiments raised in France in the late 17th century donned the exotic and extravant uniform style of the Hungarian cavalrymen that repeatedly clashed with the Turkish horsemen.
The Hussars were not happy with just adapting a different dress than the rest of the army. They also set out to perfect a lifestyle of gambling, drinking and womanizing, but also honor, martial prowess and insane courage both on and off the battlefield. Even though they were light cavalry, they would often find themselves, by their own design, in the thick of the fight - sometimes winning surprising victories, and sometimes biting off far more than they could chew. The finest example of them all was maybe their beloved General Lasalle, who would take five Austrian regimental flags at Rivoli and squander a fortune given from the Emperor himself for his wedding with the same cool panache. When the Emperor asked what had happened with the 200 000 francs, Lasalle simply stated that "I used half to pay my debts and have lost the rest gambling".
In the end, the decreasing coffers of the French Empire favoured new Chasseur regiments being raised instead. These less extravagant cavalrymen ended up outnumbering the Hussars by far, as the cost of outfitting the flashy Hussars was just as spectacular as the soldiers themselves (just check any quality reproduction uniform shop if you dare!).
French Hussars in Russia 1812
Several Hussar regiments took part in the disastrous campaign. Saxony, Poland, Westphalia, Baden, Prussia, Austria and Hesse-Homberg all provided Hussars for Napoleon.
Among the French cavalry at Borodino were both the 7th and 8th Hussars in the I Cavalry Corps, and the 6th Hussars in the III Cavalry Corps. The 6th Hussars were brigaded with the 8th Chasseurs-a-cheval under GdB Gauthrin.
Since I've already painted two units of the 8th Chasseurs, it seemed very suitable to paint up my first Hussars as the 6th. A bold colour scheme with red and blues helped support my choice.
6e Hussar on the furthest right
Painting Hussars can be tricky, not just because of the intricate uniforms. The uniforms also happened to change several times during the Napoleonic Wars, so I had a hard time to figure out how I should paint them. In the end I used a reference book by André Jouineau, French Hussars: 1804-1812 v. 2 (Officers & Soldiers): 1804-1816 which displays the various uniforms over the years.
I can really recommend the series, as they also include a brief history of each regiment. The 6th Hussars were born when Boyer, a participant of the Storming of the Bastille, was authorized to gather a group of volunteers into the Defenders of Liberty and Equality Hussars, which eventually changed their name to the decidedly less fanciful 6e régiment de hussards. But of course I'll probably still use their original name in the heat of battle!
Making the Hussars
In my unpainted pile of miniatures were two types of plastic Hussars: one box of Perry's French Hussars, and a pile of sprues of Warlord French Hussars that I bought in a sprue sale. This gave me an opportunity to compare them, but also to experiment a bit as well.
As for the Warlord plastics, the heads come with stereotypical hussar hairstyle of long braids, or cadenettes:
The problem is that the sources I've read say that this hairstyle was well out of style in 1812, and that most Hussars would have switched to the more common short cropped hairstyle. So I took out my hobby knife and chopped off the braids.
The Perry sprues come with a lot of extra heads, suitable for a range of periods as the Hussars donned several distinct headgear during the Napoleonic Wars. I wanted to try out three different versions: an all-Warlord Hussar, a Warlord Hussar with Perry head, and a Perry Hussar.
In the end I picked out a 19 miniatures batch of primarily Warlord plastic, some with Perry heads, and a command group from the Perry box. They make up two units plus command for SP2, and left me with enough unpainted Perry plastic for another two units.
6e Régiment de Hussards
I chose to do my Hussars as "over the top", in full parade uniform and pelisses (the jacket flung over the shoulder to protect from sabre slashes), as it just looks good. By 1812 the light cavalry were ordered not to carry the eagle and flag into battle, but it was also a regulation that seems to have been ignored by some officers. That is enough excuse for me to paint up a flag bearer.
French Hussars are fun to paint as each regiments has a unique uniform. For a French cavalry painter, it's a neat pause from all those dark green Dragoons and Chasseurs!
Test 1: Warlord Games
These are Warlord Hussars, but with the braids cut off. I have no idea how that blue speck of paint ended up on that horse's muzzle! I also ended up not giving them carbines, more by forgetfulness than to represent that many cavalrymen discarded the relatively useless weapons in favour of pistols and sabre.
Overall I think they look OK. I found some details, especially the lacing on the jacket and pelisses, to be harder to paint than those on the Perry Hussar. The details are kind of shallow, which is more realistic but also make them harder to paint. Notice the lack of shako cords.
Test 2: Warlord Body + Perry Head
The Perry box comes with many extra heads, so I used some extras on these Warlord Hussars. Now, my opinion is that these look a lot less wooden than the previous ones, just with this simple head swap. I was surprised by how much difference it made, honestly - the new heads make the entire pose look more animated.
Test 3: Perry Miniatures
And here's one using only Perry parts. In the end, I must say that I prefer the Perry plastic cavalry if available. But since I had already bought a whole bunch of Warlord Hussars on the cheap, I'm happy to have found a simple and effective way to improve them using Perry heads.
Perry Officer, Musician and Flag
For some reason the Perry command sprue doesn't come with enough parts to make both the flag bearer and the musician, or at least I couldn't figure out how. So I cut off the sword hand of a regular Hussar, and attached the flagbearer's hand.
I ended up giving the command group colpacks instead of shakos, partly because I wanted them to stand out, and partly because I'm thinking of making the unpainted Perry's into units of elite company wearing the same headgear.
The flag comes from GMB Designs.
Notice the reversed colours on the musician, with a red and white pelisse, blue dolman jacket and black sheepskin shabraque covering the saddle - all to stand out on the battlefield so that an officer could easily reach him to send out orders through the trumpet.
I followed the reference book's lead in giving the officer facings in gold instead of yellow, as well as a red cloth shabraque, which makes him stand out even more. Overall I just like this model a lot, it's a great work by the Perry's.
What can I say, Hussars are cool? Well, if I started out again, I'd probably just pick up the Perry plastics directly. They come with a lot of options, are easier to paint, and have more variety when it comes to horse sculpts.
However, if a bunch of Warlord Hussars end up on your table, don't be afraid to spice them up with some head swaps! Now I might have to do the same with the next batch of Chasseurs, but then I'll have even more Chasseurs left to paint...
With these two units, I have now painted up more than half of the cavalry I've bought, which is a bit of a milestone for my 2018 plans. Now I only have two units of Chasseurs, two units of Lancers, and four units of Polish Lancers left in the unpainted Pile of Shame.
Now I'm off to finish some WW2 projects, but I'd be surprised if I could keep my hands off Napoleonic miniatures for long. Until next time!