II Cavalry Corps (Grande Armée)

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II Cavalry Corps
Active 1806, 1812-1815
Country France First French Empire
Branch Army
Type Cavalry Corps
Size Two to four cavalry divisions
Engagements Napoleonic Wars
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Jean-Baptiste Bessières
Louis-Pierre Montbrun
Horace François Sébastiani
Antoine Decrest de Saint-Germain
Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans

II Cavalry Corps (Grande Armée) was a French military formation during the Napoleonic Wars. It was first formed in December 1806, but only enjoyed a brief existence under Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières. The II Cavalry Corps was reconstituted for the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and commanded by General of Division Louis-Pierre Montbrun who was killed in battle, as was his successor a few hours later. In the War of the Sixth Coalition, General of Division Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de La Porta led the corps in 1813. General of Division Antoine-Louis Decrest de Saint-Germain directed the corps in 1814. During the Hundred Days, Napoleon raised the corps again and entrusted it to General of Division Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans.

History[edit]

1806-1807[edit]

The II Cavalry Corps was formed on 16 December 1806 at the beginning of Emperor Napoleon's campaign in Poland. Placed under the command of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières, it operated with the northern wing of the French corps that advanced across the Vistula. The remainder of the army's reserve cavalry formed the I Cavalry Corps under Marshal Joachim Murat. The II Cavalry Corps included the 2nd Dragoon Division under General of Division Emmanuel Grouchy, the 4th Dragoon Division led by General of Division Louis Michel Antoine Sahuc, the 2nd Cuirassier Division commanded by General of Division Jean-Joseph Ange d'Hautpoul, and the light cavalry division of General of Division Jacques Louis François Delaistre de Tilly. The corps was dissolved on 12 January 1807.[1][2] The only notable action occurred at Bieżuń on 23 December 1806. After Grouchy's division seized Bieżuń on 19 December, the Prussian commander General-Leutnant Anton Wilhelm von L'Estocq sent Major Karl Anton Stephan de La Roche-Aymon and several units to recover the town. Upon arrival, the Prussians found that the French cavalry had been reinforced by infantry and artillery. Grouchy immediately attacked and drove La Roche-Aymon toward Soldau (Działdowo).[3] The French dragoons crowded a portion of the Prussian force against a swampy forest and forced the surrender of 500 men and five artillery pieces.[4]

1812-1814[edit]

Black and white print of man with long sideburns in a dark military uniform with lots of gold braid
Auguste Caulaincourt

The Corps was reformed in 1812 for the French invasion of Russia. Commanded by General of Division Louis-Pierre Montbrun, the initial strength of the corps was 10,436 cavalry and 30 horse artillery pieces. General of Division Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de La Porta led the 2nd Light Cavalry Division, General of Division Pierre Watier directed the 2nd Heavy Cavalry Division, and General of Division Jean-Marie Defrance commanded the 4th Heavy Cavalry Division.[5]

Color print of a cavalryman wearing a helmet with a black horsehair crest, a steel cuirass over a blue coat, and white breeches. He is riding a brown horse.
The heavy cavalry divisions included cuirassiers, shown here.

The corps was heavily engaged at the Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812. Early in the morning, the corps was moved up from reserve in support of Marshal Michel Ney's III Corps attacks on the flèches. Montbrun was killed during the struggle.[6] Around 3:00 PM, the IV Corps under Viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais mounted a frontal assault on the Great Redoubt. The II Cavalry Corps, now led by General of Division Auguste-Jean-Gabriel de Caulaincourt charged the Russian infantry lines to the south of the position. Breaking through, the cavalry wheeled to the left and galloped into the open back of the Great Redoubt just as Eugène's infantry fought their way in from the front. The four Russian infantry regiments defending the redoubt were annihilated. During the melee Caulaincourt was slain while leading the 5th Cuirassier Regiment.[7]

After the disaster in Russia, Napoleon ordered four bodies of cavalry to be rebuilt for his army in Germany. These were the Imperial Guard cavalry, the I Cavalry Corps led by General of Division Victor de Fay de La Tour-Maubourg, the II Cavalry Corps under General of Division Horace François Bastien Sébastiani, and the III Cavalry Corps under General of Division Jean-Toussaint Arrighi de Casanova. The I and II Corps were to have three heavy and four light cavalry divisions.[8] On April 15, the II Cavalry Corps numbered 149 officers, 3,144 troopers, and 3,581 horses. At the end of April the I Cavalry Corps had 172 officers, 3,343 men, and 3,705 horses deployed along the Elbe River.[9] The lack of trained horses and cavalrymen was one reason for the French defeat in 1813.[10] On 15 May, the size of the I Cavalry Corps in Napoleon's main army had been raised to 9,800 troopers in 45 to 50 squadrons. On that date, the II Cavalry Corps in Marshal Michel Ney's army numbered 3,000 horsemen in 15 squadrons.[11] At the battles of Lützen and Bautzen Napoleon only employed the I Cavalry Corps.[12] The II Cavalry Corps and the II Corps missed Bautzen because Napoleon was dazzled by the possibility of capturing Berlin. Belatedly, the emperor realized that the Allies were offering battle at Bautzen and giving him an opportunity to smash them. But his orders to Ney were too late for the two corps to arrive in time.[13]

After the summer armistice, the II Cavalry Corps numbered 10,304 men in 52 squadrons, supported by 18 guns.[14] The corps fought in the Battle of Katzbach on 26 August 1813 under the overall command of Marshal Jacques MacDonald.[15] As the French crossed the Katzbach River the cavalry became intermixed with the infantry, slowing down the advance. Early in the action, the II Cavalry Corps was driven off by Russian cavalry. The French infantry tried to hold off the charging Prussian and Russian horsemen but were unable to fire their muskets due to the heavy rain. When the Allied infantry advanced with bayonets and clubbed muskets, the French were routed. Fleeing down to the river bank the French foot soldiers found that the stream was now swollen by the rain and difficult to cross. Thousands were captured.[16] A few days later, Napoleon hurled abuse at Sébastiani for mishandling the cavalry, though the unfortunate general was allowed to remain in command.[17]

At the Battle of Leipzig on 16 to 19 October 1813, General of Division Antoine-Louis Decrest de Saint-Germain led the 2nd Heavy Cavalry Division, General of Division Nicolas François Roussel d'Hurbal commanded the 2nd Light Cavalry Division, and General of Division Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans directed the 4th Light Cavalry Division. Altogether, the corps numbered 5,680 troopers and 12 guns.[18] On the 16th, the corps was attached to Marshal Jacques MacDonald's XI Corps in its attempt to turn the Allied right flank.[19] Around noon the assault began and MacDonald drove back Johann von Klenau's Austrians. At this time, Sébastiani's advance was held up by a Russian cavalry corps led by Peter von der Pahlen at the village of Klein Possna.[20] Ultimately, Napoleon failed to smash the Allies that day and suffered the loss of Germany as a result of his defeat at Leipzig. The II Cavalry Corps played a key role at the Battle of Hanau on 30 October. Together with the Imperial Guard Cavalry, they smashed the Bavarian left flank.[21]

Saint-Germain commanded the II Cavalry Corps at the Battle of Vauchamps on 14 February 1814. It consisted of the 2nd Heavy Cavalry Division, also led by Saint-Germain, the 2nd Light Cavalry Division under General of Division Frédéric de Berckheim, and two horse artillery batteries.[22] Saint-Germain led the 2,600-strong corps at the Battle of Laubressel on 3 and 4 March. General of Division Antoine Maurin led the 2nd Light Cavalry Division.[23]

1815[edit]

Color print of the colonel commanding the 1st Dragoon Regiment. He wears a green coat and a brass helmet with a horsehair crest and his mounted on a light brown horse.
Exelmans' corps had eight dragoon regiments.

Napoleon reformed the II Cavalry Corps for the Waterloo Campaign and appointed Exelmans to command it. The corps comprised the 9th Cavalry Division led by General of Division Jean Baptiste Alexandre Strolz, the 10th Cavalry Division under General of Division Louis Pierre Aimé Chastel, and two horse artillery batteries. Each division was made up of two brigades and each brigade consisted of two dragoon regiments. The corps included the 4th, 5th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 20th Dragoon Regiments.[24] Altogether, the corps counted 2,817 horsemen, 246 artillerymen, and 12 artillery pieces.[25] On the afternoon of 15 June 1815, Exelmans led his cavalry in a vigorous pursuit of the Prussian rear guard. His dragoons defeated the 6th Uhlan Regiment and chased an infantry battalion out of the woods near Gilly, Belgium.[26]

Exelmans was ordered to hold the right flank during the Battle of Ligny on 16 June.[27] On the 17th, he accurately reported the position of 20,000 Prussians at Gembloux, but he was unable to interfere with their retreat, having only 3,000 cavalry. On that day, his corps was placed under the command of Marshal Emmanuel Grouchy.[28] On 18 and 19 June at the Battle of Wavre, Exelmans' troopers only played a small role.[29] During the fighting on the 19th, Strolz held the extreme left flank on the west bank of the Dyle River while Chastel watched the far right flank on the east bank.[30] There was a clash at Namur on the 20th in which the 20th Dragoon Regiment of the II Cavalry Corps was engaged.[31]

In one of the last actions of the Napoleonic Wars, Exelmans led Strolz's division, the 2nd Cavalry Division under Hippolyte Guillaume Piré, three battalions of the 44th Line Infantry Regiment, and a half battalion of the Sèvres National Guard in hunting down Oberstleutnant Eston von Sohr's Prussian cavalry brigade. In the Battle of Rocquencourt on 1 July, the 3rd Brandenburg and 5th Pommeranian Hussar Regiments were wrecked, suffering 500 casualties out of the 750 horsemen in Sohr's brigade. French losses were negligible.[32]

Orders of Battle[edit]

December 1806[edit]

Color print of a man with light hair that falls below the ears in a dark military uniform with gold epaulettes
Jean-Baptiste Bessières

The following organizations and unit strengths are from October 1806.
Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières[33]

  • 2nd Cuirassier Division: General of Division Jean-Joseph Ange d'Hautpoul (1,927, 3 guns)
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Jean Verdière
      • 1st Cuirassier Regiment, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th squadrons
      • 5th Cuirassier Regiment, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th squadrons
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Raymond-Gaspard de Bonardi de Saint-Sulpice
      • 10th Cuirassier Regiment, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th squadrons
    • Artillery: 2nd Horse Artillery, 4th company (-), two 6-pound guns, one 6-inch howitzer
  • 2nd Dragoon Division: General of Division Emmanuel Grouchy (2,915, 3 guns)
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Mansuy Roget
      • 3rd Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
      • 4th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Jacques Milet
      • 10th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
      • 11th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • Brigade: General of Brigade André Joseph Boussart
      • 13th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
      • 22nd Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • Artillery: 2nd Horse Artillery, 2nd company (-), two 8-pound guns, one 6-inch howitzer
General Sahuc in dark blue uniform
Louis Sahuc
  • 4th Dragoon Division: General of Division Louis Michel Antoine Sahuc (3,129, 3 guns)
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Pierre Margaron[34]
      • 17th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
      • 27th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • Brigade: General of Brigade Jacques Léonard Laplanche
      • 18th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
      • 19th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • Brigade: unknown commander
      • 15th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
      • 25th Dragoon Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • Artillery: 6th Horse Artillery, 4th company (-), two 8-pound guns, one 6-inch howitzer
  • Cavalry Division: General of Division Jacques Louis François Delaistre de Tilly (1,623)[35]
    • 2nd Hussar Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • 4th Hussar Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons
    • 5th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd squadrons

September 1812[edit]

Black and white print of a man with a moustache and small goatee in a dark military uniform with epaulettes and a high collar
Louis-Pierre Montbrun

General of Division Louis-Pierre Montbrun [36] (10,436, 30 guns)[37]

  • 2nd Light Cavalry Division: General of Division Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de La Porta
    • 5th Hussar Regiment, four squadrons
    • 9th Hussar Regiment, four squadrons
    • 11th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, four squadrons
    • 12th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, four squadrons
    • Prussian Uhlan Regiment, four squadrons
    • 3rd Württemberg Jägers zu Pferde Regiment, four squadrons
    • 10th Polish Hussar Regiment, four squadrons
  • 2nd Cuirassier Division: General of Division Pierre Watier
    • 5th Cuirassier Regiment, four squadrons
    • 8th Cuirassier Regiment, four squadrons
    • 10th Cuirassier Regiment, four squadrons
  • 4th Cuirassier Division: General of Division Jean-Marie Defrance
    • 1st Carabinier Regiment, four squadrons
    • 2nd Carabinier Regiment, four squadrons
    • 1st Cuirassier Regiment, four squadrons
    • 4th Chevau-léger Lancer Regiment, four squadrons
  • Attached Artillery: 30 guns in horse artillery batteries

October 1813[edit]

Color print of curly-haired man in a dark blue uniform with epaulettes and gold braid
Horace Sébastiani

General of Division Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de La Porta[18]

  • 2nd Light Cavalry Division: General of Division Nicolas François Roussel d'Hurbal
    • 7th Light Cavalry Brigade: General of Brigade François-Joseph Gérard
      • 2nd Chevau-léger Lancer Regiment, three squadrons
      • 11th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, three squadrons
      • 12th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, three squadrons
    • 8th Light Cavalry Brigade: General of Brigade Jean-Baptiste Dommanget
      • 4th Chevau-léger Lancer Regiment, three squadrons
      • 5th Hussar Regiment, three squadrons
      • 9th Hussar Regiment, four squadrons
    • One-half horse artillery battery (three guns)
  • 4th Light Cavalry Division: General of Division Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans
    • 9th Light Cavalry Brigade: General of Brigade Antoine Maurin
      • 6th Chevau-léger Lancer Regiment, two squadrons
      • 4th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, two squadrons
      • 7th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, two squadrons
      • 20th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, two squadrons
    • 10th Light Cavalry Brigade: General of Brigade François Isidore Wathier
      • 23rd Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, four squadrons
      • 24th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiment, three squadrons
      • 11th Hussar Regiment, two squadrons
    • One-half horse artillery battery (three guns)
  • 2nd Heavy Cavalry Division: General of Division Antoine-Louis Decrest de Saint-Germain
    • 1st Brigade: General of Brigade François Charles Jean Pierre Marie d'Avranges d'Haugeranville
      • 1st Carabinier Regiment, two squadrons
      • 2nd Carabinier Regiment, two squadrons
    • 2nd Brigade: General of Brigade Nicolas-Marin Thiry
      • 1st Cuirassier Regiment, two squadrons
      • 5th Cuirassier Regiment, three squadrons
      • 8th Cuirassier Regiment, two squadrons
      • 10th Cuirassier Regiment, two squadrons
    • One horse artillery battery (six guns)

June 1815[edit]

Black and white print of a thin-faced man with heavy eyelids in a dark military uniform with epualettes
Rémi Isidore Exelmans

General of Division Rémi Joseph Isidore Exelmans[24]

  • 9th Cavalry Division: General of Division Jean Baptiste Alexandre Strolz
    • 1st Brigade: General of Brigade André Burthe d'Annelet
      • 5th Dragoon Regiment
      • 13th Dragoon Regiment
    • 2nd Brigade: General of Brigade Henri-Catherine-Baltazard Vincent
      • 15th Dragoon Regiment
      • 20th Dragoon Regiment
  • 10th Cavalry Division: General of Division Louis Pierre Aimé Chastel
    • 1st Brigade: General of Brigade Pierre Bonnemains
      • 4th Dragoon Regiment
      • 12th Dragoon Regiment
    • 2nd Brigade: General of Brigade Jean Baptiste (Breton) Berton
      • 14th Dragoon Regiment
      • 17th Dragoon Regiment
  • Artillery: Two horse artillery batteries

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Petre, 86
  2. ^ Chandler Jena, 37. Chandler gave the division numbers only.
  3. ^ Petre, 86-87
  4. ^ Smith, 234-235
  5. ^ Chandler (1966), p. 1110
  6. ^ Chandler (1966), pp. 800-801
  7. ^ Chandler (1966), p. 805
  8. ^ Petre, F. Loraine (1912). Napoleon's Last Campaign in Germany, 1813. New York: John Lane Company. p. 15. 
  9. ^ Maude, Frederic Natusch (1908). The Leipzig Campaign 1813. New York: The Macmillan Co. p. 86. 
  10. ^ Chandler (1966), p. 868
  11. ^ Maude (1908), p. 124
  12. ^ Smith, pp. 417-421
  13. ^ Petre (1912), pp. 107-108
  14. ^ Maude (1908), p. 148
  15. ^ Smith (1998), p. 442
  16. ^ Petre (1912), pp. 254-255
  17. ^ Petre (1912), p. 270
  18. ^ a b Smith (1998), p. 462
  19. ^ Chandler (1966), p. 924
  20. ^ Chandler (1966), p. 929
  21. ^ Chandler (1966), p. 936
  22. ^ Smith (1998), p. 496
  23. ^ Smith (1998), p. 506
  24. ^ a b Haythornthwaite, 182
  25. ^ Haythornthwaite, 187
  26. ^ Hamilton-Williams, 163-164
  27. ^ Hamilton-Williams, 192
  28. ^ Hamilton-Williams, 245-246
  29. ^ Hamilton-Williams, 325, 353
  30. ^ Hamilton-Williams, map opposite 65
  31. ^ Smith, 548
  32. ^ Smith, 553. Curiously, Smith's detailed losses for the two Prussian regiments only added up to 229 casualties. But, he also listed a total of 613 horses killed, wounded or captured, which gives meaning to his statement that the hussar regiments were "effectively destroyed".
  33. ^ Chandler Jena, 37
  34. ^ Smith, p 242. Smith places Margaron in Sahuc's division at the time of the Battle of Eylau. However, Margaron led one of Soult's light cavalry brigades in October 1806.
  35. ^ Chandler Jena, 34
  36. ^ Smith, 391. Smith listed the organization.
  37. ^ Chandler Campaigns, 1110. Chandler gave the strengths only.

References[edit]