Tuesday, March 20, 2012

French Dragoons, mid- to late 17th Century

A French dragoon, 1680-1700, from the Vinkhuijzen Collection of Military Uniforms, NYPL, otherwise unidentified. Since only three French dragoon regiments at this period wore blue coats, it is likely that the regiment depicted is one of them. Given that Royal wore a blue coat faced red with pewter buttons, this image may depict that regiment.

Dragoons, according to Turner, were “Musketeers mounted on horses, appointed to march with the cavalry....” Dr. Johnson defined a dragoon as “a man who serves indifferently either on foot or on horseback.” However, despite the fact that they shared certain attributes of each, dragoons at this period were neither infantry nor cavalry but were a distinct combat arm (one is immediately reminded of the familiar, ancient division of the combat arms‑‑omitting the artillery‑‑into “horse, foot, and dragoons”).

Since they combined the firepower of the infantry with the cavalry’s mobility, dragoons were very useful troops, capable of performing a variety of missions. Turner summarized these as follows:

          Dragoons then go not only before to guard passes (as some imagine) but to fight in open field; for if an enemy rencounter with a cavalry in a champaign or open heath, the dragoons are obliged to alight [dismount], and mix themselves with the squads of horse, as they shall be commanded; and their continuate firing; before the horse come to the charge, will, no doubt, be very hurtful to the enemy: If the encounter be in close countrey, they serve well to line hedges, and possess enclosures, they serve for defending passes and beating the enemy from them.

Reference: Turner, James. Pallas Armata: Miitary Essays of the Ancient Grecian, Roman, and Modern Art of War, Written in the Years 1670 and 1671. London: Chiswell, 1683.

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