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Horse chasseurs, huntsmen: Napoleon's best cavalry
Horse chasseurs, huntsmen: Napoleon's best cavalry

Horse rangers are guardsmen, grunts and the most versatile horsemen of the Napoleonic Wars.

General Bonaparte: consul, emperor, reformer

During the decade of the Revolutionary Wars, horse chasseurs became an integral part of the army of the young French Republic, performing a wide variety of tasks both on the battlefield and during campaigns.

With the coming to power of Napoleon, an era of great changes begins for the French cavalry: the first consul attached special importance to the improvement of cavalry and spared neither effort nor time to strengthen its combat effectiveness. In just a few years, the command managed to achieve impressive results: if in 1800 in some regiments there was a shortage of horses up to 30% of the regular number, and among the equestrian-jaeger regiments, a low level of horsemanship was a widespread problem, then by the beginning of the War of the Third Coalition these negative factors were largely overcome.

First of all, they took up the officers, among whom there were many of those who were not too willing to shed blood for their native Fatherland. With the rise in the general level of cavalry, the importance of the mounted chasseurs, it seemed, should have sharply decreased, but in reality this was not entirely the case.

Horseman and light cavalry sabers

Napoleon's concept implied a more explicit specialization of cavalry, while at the same time instilling in all, even light-horse regiments, the tactics of regular cavalry and action in close formation. In accordance with the decree of 1802, all cavalry was reduced to 78 regiments: 2 carabinieri, 13 cuirassiers, 30 dragoons, 24 horse-jaegers, 10 hussars.

The task of the first two types of cavalry was a decisive ramming strike, the dragoons had to anticipate the appearance of the infantry, occupying the most convenient and strong positions, the hussars and horse chasseurs - to conduct reconnaissance, fight at outposts and in the rearguard, and pursue. Light cavalry regiments numbered at first 650, then slightly more than 1000 soldiers and officers, but in fact their real number rarely exceeded 500-600 sabers, and after the reform, one squadron remained in the rear, while the other three fought as part of the Great Army.

The first company of the first squadron of each regiment was formed from the best cavalrymen, who wore special insignia. During the years of the existence of the First Empire, horse rangers were noted in all campaigns from the Ebro to the Moskva River and demonstrated the excellent qualities of scouts and warriors.

Light cavalry: scouts and excellent fighters

Horse chasseurs, like other riders of light cavalry, starting in 1803 began to receive cavalry sabers of the XI model, designed for combat in formation, and not for individual fencing, which resulted in a significant increase in weight, a more complex hilt that protected the rider's hand, but constraining the movement of the hand and the longer length of the blade.

From now on, a saber with a scabbard weighed 2.7 kg instead of the previous 1.65 kg. An auxiliary weapon for the Chasseurs was the 1786 model hussar blunderbuss or the IX model cavalry carbine, usually used on foot or in combat at outposts. In the "Note on Cavalry and Light Forces" compiled by Captain Chienti, a separate emphasis was placed on the irrational and "devoid of grace and convenience" uniform of equestrian rangers: soon the Chasseurs received new uniforms, which became a real masterpiece of military fashion of that era.

Suffice it to say that the uniform of the guards horse rangers was the favorite uniform of the Emperor of the French himself - in his most famous portraits, Napoleon is depicted in it.

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Each corps of the Great Army included cavalry divisions, which consisted entirely of hussar and horse-jaeger regiments, carrying out reconnaissance and conducting a small war, but on the battlefield, horse chasseurs, as a rule, fought on a par with cuirassiers and dragoons in close formation.

In 1806, during the double battle at Jena-Auerstedt, the horse rangers successfully fought not only with the Prussian horsemen, but also attacked the infantry lines; in 1809, during the Aspern-Essling battle, horsemen under the command of the great Lassalle fought with the Hungarian hussars in the very center of the battlefield.

Horse rangers against the English guards

In an exceptional situation, the Chasseurs could even dismount and fight on foot, as, for example, during the battles on the Berezina during the French retreat from Russia. Even more effective light riders acted in pursuit of the enemy: in 1800, at Hohenlinden, horse chasseurs forced almost 8,000 Austrians to lay down their arms, in October 1805, guards horse rangers participated in the pursuit and defeat of Vernezh's Austrian column.

And in 1806, a detachment of 500 rangers captured more than 4,000 Prussians, including the elite regiments of heavy cavalry. In January 1800, a company of mounted rangers of the Guard of the Consuls was formed, which later became the nucleus of the Regiment of mounted rangers of the Old Guard, which included one of the most extravagant units of the entire Great Army - the Mameluk company. To be continued.

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