Clic to scroll down to next paragraph Use of Military Cavalry at night (Gérard, webmaster)

Photo: David Atlan pour Point de vue (17 juin 2000)

If reading a large number of books on the "first empire" provides a good understanding of history, nothing can compare to experiencing first hand the reason for the successes and failures by re-enacting them on the same fields and in the same manner as did the soldier of the period.
    This is how in May of 1999 at the re-enactment of the Campagnes of France (1814) we the French forces were compelled to make a counter attack against a German force  King German Legion. at night.

    The hour and precise place were unknown to us. At 22h30 on a moonless night, and in total darkness our cavalry patrol moved off up a narrow track which separated the two armies, approximately 60 men each. The stillness of the night made it impossible for our sounds not to be discerned well ahead of us. The noise of our own horses made listening for enemy movement difficult. The enemy infantry on the other hand could move about in virtual silence. Score: Germans 1 French 0.We soon arrived within range of the enemy rifles, not having any idea as to their location. Germany 2 France 0. They began to shoot at us, their muzzle flashes stealing their night vision and making reloading difficult. Germany 2 France 1.In good visibility we would have been able to charge them directly sabering them all, but this was darkness and the safety of the horses was at risk. Certainly the horses had better vision but to attack without the riders capable of seeing obstacles would be senseless. Germany 3 France 1.Our only possibility was to make a tactical withdrawal, calling up our infantry to handle the affair.
Clic to scroll down to next paragraph     Unfortunately we had left it too late and we would have to owe the Germans a drink on this night.The lessons taught here showed us the reason night action was seldom carried out by armies let alone cavalry, the hazards being far too great.

         At Athies in France during the 1814 campaign the cavalry of Blücher was able to inflict great losses amongst the French cavalry:
        The French were charged by the Prussian cavalry before they had time to form and so lost their cohesion. The French tried to flee but were caught in a running melee. The French infantry saw an opportunity to do great damage to the Germans overlooking the fact that their own cavalry were mixed in. They opened fire, hitting foe and friend alike. In darkness it was not unusual for Prussians to shoot Prussians and French to shoot French, only the flashes of the weapons identifying the assailants. To boot Prussians would use a ruse shouting "Vive l'Empereur" while the French would frequently call out "Hurrah". General Marmont rode into the masses trying to rally his troops, as the regiments were now mixed he had no idea how to bring them together or where the officers were to transmit the orders.
        Meanwhile Colonel Fabvier, detached one hour earlier, hears the hurrahs of the Prussians and brings up 1000 infantry in support. His surprise intervention clears the road and brings stability to the situation, acting as a rallying point for the French cavalry.
 Clic to scroll down to next paragraph  Marmont is now able to put some order in the situation and carry out an orderly withdrawal. French losses are huge: 3000 out of 9000 are killed, wounded or lost.
    Night fighting was not recommended. Even in daylight there could be difficulties i.e. the color of many uniforms looked similar, Saxons fought for the French and also for the Austrians using the same nobleman's name to identify their regiments. Many other examples can be used.

From General de Brack's book the "Light cavalry out posts" we can understand the uses of cavalry action at night:
If the Cossacks attack, the wish is to keep the enemy awake causing exhaustion.
If the Prussians attack, it is more serious and you must be ready and able to manoeuvre.
If the Austrians attack, they probably have their infantry with them.

Historical list  of 2nd Dragoons'Colonels under Napoleon 
And   list of Wunded and died officers. on french special page

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