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566
CAVALRY

began to threaten the other army it entrenched likewise. Against these methods the Prussian army soon wore itself out, and though from time to time the cavalry locally distinguished itself, no further opportunities for great decisive blows presented themselves.

The increased demands made upon the mobility of the Prussian horsemen naturally resulted in the gradual rejection of everything which was not essential to their striking power. The long muskets and bayonets were laid aside, but the cuirass was retained for the mêlée, and by the close of the great struggle the various branches of the arm had differentiated themselves out into the types still adhered to, heavy cavalry, dragoons, hussars, whose equipment as regards essentials thenceforward hardly varied up to the latter years of the 19th century. The only striking difference lies in the entire rejection of the lance in the armament of the charging squadrons, and the reason is characteristic of the principles of the day. The Prussian cavalry had realized that success was decided, not primarily by actual collision, but by the moral effect of the appearance of an absolutely closed wall of horsemen approaching the adversary at full speed. If the necessary degree of cohesion was attained, the other side was morally beaten before collision took place, and either turned to flight, or met the shock with so little resolution that it was ridden over without difficulty. In the former case any weapon was good enough to kill a flying enemy; in the latter, in the mêlée which then ensued, the crush in the ranks of the victors was still so great that the lance was a hindrance rather than a help.

In the years succeeding the war the efficiency of the Prussian cavalry sank very rapidly, the initial cause being the death of Seydlitz at the early age of fifty-two. His personality had alone dominated the discontent, lethargy and hopelessness created by ruthless financial economies. When he was gone, as always in the absence of a great leader, men adapted their lives to the line of least resistance. In thirty years the wreck was complete, and within the splendid squadrons which had been accustomed to manœuvre with perfect precision at the highest speed, there were (as F. A. von der Marwitz in his Nachlass clearly shows) not more than seven thoroughly trained men and horses to each, the remainder being trained for little longer and receiving less attention than is the case with modern 2nd line or auxiliary cavalry.

For the generation preceding the outbreak of the French Revolution, Frederick the Great’s army, and especially his cavalry, had become the model for all Europe, but the mainspring of the excellence ofCavalry
in the
revolu-
tionary
wars.
his squadrons was everywhere overlooked. Seydlitz had manœuvred great masses of horsemen, therefore every one else must have great masses also; but no nation grasped the secret, viz. the unconditional obedience of the horse to its rider, on which his success had depended. Neither was it possible under the prevailing social conditions to secure the old stamp of horse, or the former attention to detail on the part of men and officers. In France, owing to the agricultural decay of the country, suitable remounts for charging cavalry were almost unobtainable, and as this particular branch of the army was almost exclusively commanded by the aristocracy it suffered most in the early days of the Revolution. The hussars, being chiefly recruited and officered by Alsatians and Germans from the Rhine provinces, retained their individuality and traditions much longer than the dragoons and cuirassiers, and, to the very close of the great wars, we find them always ready to charge at a gallop; but the unsteadiness and poor horsemanship of the other branches was so great that up to 1812, the year of their destruction, they always charged at a trot only, considering that the advantage of superior cohesion thus gained more than balanced the loss of momentum due to the slower pace.

Generally, the growth of the French cavalry service followed the universal law. The best big horses went to the heavy charging cavalry, viz. the cuirassiers, the best light horses to the hussars, and the dragoons received the remainder, for in principle they were only infantry placed on horseback for convenience of locomotion, and were not primarily intended for combined mounted action. Fortunately for them, their principal adversaries, the Austrians, had altogether failed to grasp the lesson of the Seven Years’ War. Writing in 1780 Colonel Mack, a very capable officer, said, “Even in 1769, the cavalry could not ride, could not manage to control their horses. Not a single squadron could keep its dressing at a gallop, and before they had gone fifty yards at least ten out of forty horses in the first rank would break out to the front,” and though the veteran field marshal Lacy issued new regulations, their spirit seems always to have escaped the executive officers. The British cavalry was almost worse off, for economy had reduced its squadrons to mere skeletons, and the traditional British style of horsemanship, radically different from that in vogue in France, made their training for combined action even more difficult than elsewhere. Hence the history of cavalry during the earlier campaigns of the Revolution is marked by no decisive triumphs, the results are always inadequate when judged by the magnitude of the forces employed, and only the brilliant exploit of the 15th Light Dragoons (now Hussars) at Villers en Couché (April 24, 1794) deserves to be cited as an instance of the extraordinary influence which even a few horsemen can exercise over a demoralized or untrained mob of infantry.

Up to the campaign of Poland (see Napoleonic Campaigns) French victories were won chiefly by the brilliant infantry fighting, cavalry only intervening (as at Jena) to charge a beaten enemy and complete his destruction by pursuit. But after the terrible waste of life in the winter of 1806–7, and the appalling losses in battle, Napoleon introduced a new form of attack. The case-shot preparation of his artillery (see Artillery) sowed confusion and terror in the enemy’s ranks, and the opportunity was used by masses of cavalry. Henceforward this method dominated the Napoleonic tactics and strategy. The essential difference between this system and the Frederician lies in this, that with the artillery available in the former period it was not possible to say in advance at what point the intervention of cavalry would be necessary, hence the need for speed and precision of manœuvre to ensure their arrival at the right time and place. Napoleon now selected beforehand the point he meant to overwhelm and could bring his cavalry masses within striking distance at leisure. Once placed, it was only necessary to induce them to run away in the required direction to overwhelm everything by sheer weight of men and horses. This method failed at Waterloo because the ground was too heavy, the slope of it against the charge, and the whole condition of the horses too low for the exertion demanded of them.

The British cavalry from 1793 to 1815 suffered from the same causes which at the beginning of the 20th century brought about its breakdown in the South African War. Over-sea transport brought the horses to land in poor condition, and it was rarely possible to afford them sufficient time to recover and become accustomed to the change in forage, the conditions of the particular theatre of operations, &c., before they had to be led against the enemy—hence a heavy casualty roll and the introduction into the ranks of raw unbroken horses which interfered with the precision of manœuvre of the remainder. Their losses (about 13% per annum) were small as compared with those of South Africa, but this is mainly accounted for by the fact that, operations being generally in the northern hemisphere, the change of climate was never so severe. Tactically, they suffered, like the Austrians and Prussians, from the absence of any conception of the Napoleonic strategy amongst their principal leaders. As it was not known where the great blow was to fall, they were distributed along the whole line, and thus became habituated to the idea of operating in relatively small bodies. This is the worst school for the cavalry soldier, because it is only when working in masses of forty to sixty squadrons that the cumulative consequences of small errors of detail become so apparent as to convince all ranks of the necessity of conforming accurately to established prescriptions. Nevertheless, they still retained the practice of charging at a gallop, and as a whole were by far the most efficient body of horsemen who survived at the close of the great wars.

In the reaction that then ensued all over Europe, cavalry