The Cavalry - Organisation & Tactics
The mounted troops of the Hapsburg Empire comprised one of the most powerful forces of the Napoleonic Wars; the field army in March 1809, forexample, included no less than 44,940 cavalrymen and 42,791 horses. Though involved in a number of epic actions, however, limitations in the ability of the higher echelons of command prevented the force from being as effective as it might, and successive re-organisations seem to have had little effect in redressing the balance.
Many of the more general facts relating to the internal workings of the Austrian army are as applicable to the cavalry as to the infantry, as described in the previous section. Recruiting was largely as for the infantry; although cavalry units were supposed to accept only men who had already completed basic training with the infantry, though this was usually disregarded. Cavalry regiments (espescially Hungarian units) had little difficulty in attracting recruits, unlike many infantry regiments. This was reflected in the bounties paid to men enlisted in the smaller south German states, which provided so much of the Austrian army's manpower: 35 florins bounty for an infantry recruit, but only 29 florins for a cavalryman__a clear indication of the preference for the mounted arm among most potential recruits. Ranks in the cavalry were similar to those in the infantry, although from 1771 the rank of Hauptleute (senior lieutenant) was re-styled Rittmeister, a squadron commander being the Premier-Rittmeister, his deputy the Seconde-Rittmeister and the senior NCO rank was known as Wachtmeister. (sargeant).
Cuirassier officer, 1796; note* that the coat is worn over the cuirass. The trumpeter in the background rides a grey horse.
(Print after R. von Ottenfeld).
As in the infantry, the quality of the officer corps was of great importance, and this was stressed by the 1806 regulations which claimed that poorly-trained and ill-mounted troops with good officers were superior to well-trained toops with poor officers. From the outset, higher command in the cavalry was far less capable due to appointments being influenced by nepotism and politics, and resulting in commanders who frequently lacked experience of active service. As Archduke Charles reported from the Netherlands in 1794, so dissatisfied with their commanders were the officers of the Kinsky Cheveauxlegers that they 'have sworn' That the first gentleman who delivers an order to attack will be forced to take part in the charge personally!
The system whereby the regimental Inhaber (colonel-proprietor) had so much control over the affairs of the regiment was equally applicable in the cavalry as with the infantry, regimental commissions being within a colonel's gift. Among the system's difficulties was a singular incident which occured at Wagram, when Prince Albert of Saxe-Teschen was Inhaber of a regiment on either side__the Austrian Prince Albert's Cuirassiers and the Saxon Prince Albert's Hussars. As the countries had long been at peace, it had been his practice to appoint candidates to whichever vacancy was next available, in either regiment. Thus on this occasion even members of the same family found themselves arrayed on opposing sides, and by even greater coincidence the regiments actually charged each other. The Saxons had the better of this sad encounter.