French Dragoons Organisation

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Armies >> French Army >> French Dragoons Organisation

Introduction

Originally the French dragoons were called carabins or argoulets. As soon as 1615, each light horse company included a platoon of 'carabins. In 1621, these platoons were grouped into a single unit, placed under the command of Mestre de Camp Arnauld de Corbeville.

In 1625, when the Cardinal de Richelieu organised the French cavalry, he instituted six dragoon regiments. A royal edict dated July 25, 1665, specified that the dragoons would form part of the infantry.

In 1667, at the beginning of the War of Devolution (1667-68), a dragoon regiment accompanied Louis XIV in his campaign. On April 2, 1668, the charge of “colonel général des dragons” was created. Thus the dragoons became a distinct arm within the French Army.

A regulation was issued on May 17 1669 to organise the two existing dragoon regiments.

In 1672, at the beginning of the Franco-Dutch War (1672-78), Louvois created four additional dragoon regiments. By 1678, there were 14 dragoon regiments. On December 24, 1678, each of their companies were reduced to 48 men. Until then dragoons always fought dismounted and only used their horses to move from one location to another. If ever they fought mounted, it was by accident during forages.

On January 24, 1680, one oboist was introduced in each dragoon company. Beforehand, these companies had only one drummer. By 1681, each dragoon company had 36 troopers. On May 7, the dragoon companies were increased to 40 troopers each. In 1684, after the Truce of Ratisbon, all dragoon companies were reduced to 35 troopers each.

By the end of the Nine Years’ War (1688-97), there were 43 dragoon regiments. The regulation of December 1, 1689, specified that, when cavalry and dragoon regiments served together, the cavalry would always take the right, but that the generals could deploy the dragoons as he saw fit.

Usually, dragoon regiments were deployed on the wings of the army positions, in advanced positions or to cover the progression of headquarters. During battles, because of their great mobility, they were used as a mounted infantry reserve. When mounted, dragoons served as cavalry; when dismounted, as infantry.

The dragoon regiments were usually sold from an owner to another, with the authorisation of the king.

Each regiment counted one grenadier company.

At the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession, the French army counted 23 dragoon regiments, but 9 of these regiments had only 1 cadre company. In 1701, 8 of the regiments, which counted a single company, were brought to full strength. In 1702, 8 new dragoon regiments were raised, bringing the number of regiments at full strength to 30. In 1705, 3 new dragoon regiments were raised and the last regiment counting a single company was brought to full strength. In 1708, 1 new regiment was raised, bringing the total number of dragoon regiments to 35. In 1713 and 1714, at the end of the war, 21 regiments were disbanded.

Composition and Organisation

Each dragoon regiment was organised in 3 squadrons for a total strength of 300 to 450 men including officers but excluding the regimental staff.

The staff of a regiment included:

  • 1 colonel (instead of mestre-de-camp as the commander of a line cavalry regiment)
  • 1 lieutenant-colonel
  • 1 major
  • 1 aide-major
  • 1 chaplain.

Each of the 3 squadrons counted 4 companies.

Each company consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 1 lieutenant
  • 1 cornet
  • 1 maréchal-des-logis (quartermaster)
  • 2 corporals
  • 1 oboist (only in the three first companies of a regiment)
  • 1 drummer
  • 20 troopers (reduced to 20 in December 1699, and then increased to 30 in January 1701 and to 35 in November 1701)

Guidons

The swallow-tailed regimental colours of dragoon regiments were known as guidons. Each squadron of a regiment carried one guidon. The cornet of the senior company of the squadron carried this guidon. During battles, the cornet and its guidon were placed in the middle of the first rank of the squadron.

References

Hall, Robert: Guidons and Uniforms of the French Dragoons under Louis XIV 1688-1714, 2001

Sapherson, C. A.: The French Cavalry 1688 - 1715, Raider Book, 1990

Susane, Louis: Histoire de la cavalerie française, Vol. 1, Paris: Hetzel, 1874, pp. 271-282

Ackowledgements

Michele Savasta Fiore and Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for a large part of the content of this article