French Dragoons Organisation

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Introduction

Originally the French dragoons were called carabins or argoulets and attached to light horse companies. Louis XIII officially created the dragoons unit in 1635.

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.

In 1755, a regulation eliminated the foot companies. From then on, all companies of a dragoon regiment were theoretically mounted.

At the beginning of the Seven Years' War, the French army counted 16 dragoon regiments with a theoretical strength of 10,240 men excluding the officers. During the war, some regiments remained on the coasts of France to prevent British landings while others served in the various campaigns in Germany. In these campaigns, the lack of horses and the interest for mixed forces led to the reappearance of foot companies. This was particularly true for the regiments serving in Germany who distinguished themselves in the petite guerre.

Composition and Organisation

The regulations of August 18 1755 and June 1st 1756 organised each dragoon regiment in 4 squadrons of 172 men for a total strength of 688 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 assistant-major
  • 1 assistant-major in 2nd
  • 1 chaplain.

Each of the 4 squadrons counted 4 companies. These squadrons were respectively commanded by the lieutenant-colonel, the major, the assistant-major, and the assistant-major in 2nd.

Each company consisted of:

  • 1 captain
  • 1 lieutenant
  • 1 sergeant (maréchal-des-logis')
  • 2 corporals
  • 4 carabiniers
  • 1 quarter-master (fourrier)
  • 32 dragoons
  • 1 drummer

The regulation of January 5 1757 established an additional cornet in each dragoon company except in the colonel company of the Colonel Général Dragons and the mestre de camp company of the Mestre de Camp Général Dragons where such a cornet already existed. The cornets were selected by king. This addition brought the total strength of a regiment to 704 men including officers but excluding the regimental staff.

Colours

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.

Drill

During reviews, dragoons presented their carbine instead of carrying sword in hand as the cavalry. Furthermore, their exercises on foot were completely different from those of the infantry.

References

This article includes excerpts of an article by Jean-Louis Vial published on his website Nec Pluribus Impar. The article is entitled “French Dragoons during the Seven Years War”

The article also incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Pajol, Charles P. V., Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. VII, Paris, 1891, p. 394-424

Ackowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for his kind authorisation to reproduce his articles and material.