Tubby Isaacs wrote:
Ah right. I was thinking of the Civil War. My memory is to be trusted less than yours though.
This again dates back to school days when proper history was taught (but seldom absorbed).
With the advent of firearms on the battlefield, some bright spark decided it would be handy to put some of the shooters on horseback.
This helped in a couple of situations.
1. The tendency of people who didn't want to end up on the end of a horseman's sword to bugger off indoors (or out out reach like a wily Pathan)
and then start shooting the kink's household out of their saddles. The thinking was that the mounted infantry could keep up with their
horsemen, and win fire fights like this.
2. Times when getting there first was important. 2 forces are marching towards a fort, and the first ones to get there can occupy it.
The mounted shooters are ideal for this as they combine mobility and fire power (Though in an either/or fashion).
Traditional cavalry are not very good at defending forts, and traditional infantry don't get there quick enough.
The soldiers carried a lightened form of the infantry musket (and I'm pretty sure they adopted the flintlock method of firing while most infantry
were still wielding matchlocks).
This gun was nicknamed the dragon, or dragoon (Probably on account of the big flash of fire it generated on shooting), and
it lent its name for the soldiers.
Aside form the 2 tactical deployments of dragoons, they found themselves at a bit of a loose end in pitched battles.
They lacked the numbers and training to fight toe to toe against trained infantry, and lacked the quality horses and trainign to go against regular cavalry.
They were found most useful on campaign for scouting, "foraging", and on military police duties.
They often gained a reputation for rape, looting and general lawlessness.
In time, you'd have thought the improving firearms would see more cavalry opting to fight dismounted.
In fact the opposite was true, and by 1800 almost all Dragoons fought as regular cavalry.
The scouting role devolved to specialist "Light cavalty" known as Hussars, Light Dragoons or Chevauxleger (Various other names).
Napoleon was forced on 2 occasions to dismount a small proportion of his dragoons due to shortage of horses.
By all accounts the hated it, grumbled a lot and performed poorly.
Dragoons carried on acting as battle cavalry until the Crimean war. (And later in other European armies).
The Americans with big territory and a rifleman tradition revived the idea of moving mounted and fighting dismounted.
By the end of their civil war, most of their cavalry regiments preferred firepower over cold steel.
By contrast the British army issued a new pattern cavalry sword in 1908.
I've heard an account (but been able to confirm it) that the great debate for the Sandhurst class of 1913 was whether sword or lance would dominate the next war.
I must admit that last bit sounds like a bit of lions and donkeys embellishment.