Saturday, 24 July 2010

French Dragoons in North-America

Part of the French troops that came with d'Estaing to Savannah, and with Saint-Simon to Yorktown were  small units of dragoons of the regiments de Bezunce-dragons and Condé-dragons. They were just one company each of 40 horsemen and a small staff, 50 soldiers altogether. When I planned to have these units in my French army I decided to size them up a bit - two dragoons, a drummer and an officer per unit just weren't enough, in my view. So I wanted to paint two squadrons with a standard-bearer for each regiment. Which meant 11 figures: 8 dragoons, 1 drummer, 1 standard-bearer, and 1 officer per unit.
The right figures were not available. No producer would care to make moulds for such small units that were present in the American theatre only for a very short period, and not as fighting units after all.
Front Rank have some Schomberg Light Dragoons in their SYW range. They have the right type of helmet for the French dragoons of the 1770ies, but the uniform coat is of the wrong cut of course, and above all the figures have a number of flaws: They wear the wrong form of dragoon gaiters (instead of boots), carry two pistols instead of one pistol and a tool at the saddle, they do not have a picket-pole, and their sabres are rather straight etc.
 In spite of all, I decided to use these figures - which meant a bit of tinkering. For example I cut off the pistol grip and barrel on the right side, drilled a hole into the remaining part, and inserted a bit of wire to indicate a shovel grip. About the missing picket-pole I could do nothing as the position of the right arm with the carbine didn't allow to add the pole. Also I wasn't able to change the position of the drum to the left side of the drummer (which would have been right), or to equip the officer with a fusil.
The staffs of the standards were not just simple sticks but had the form of tournament lances with a ring to fasten the baldric to. A bit of modelling resin did the job to transform the simple wire into a proper standard lance, and a ring of thin wire was easily glued to it. The rest was painting.
The main problem, however, was finding out the details of the uniforms, and the look of the standards my units were to have. Both units were stationed in the West Indies, so their uniforms were probably the same for Savannah and Yorktown, i.e. uniforms according to the regulations of 1776. Different French websites provided me with the necessary information about the uniforms and horse trappings. I only had to activate my little knowledge of French, and from time to time ask my wife for help who speaks French fluently (sometimes it's not too bad to be married to the right kind of person).
This regiment had the usual green coat with white cuffs and lapels, and a red turn-down collar. The green saddle-cloth had a white and black chequered border (silver for officers). Drummers wore the King's livery, i.e. a dark blue coat with Royal lace.
To find out something about the standard I had to borrow a book through the university library: Pierre Charrié, "Drapeaux et Étendards du Roi", Paris 1989. It is a very thorough piece of research work, and will give you any information that is to be had. The standard of 1764 to 1782 is described as follows: averse dark green with golden Royal sun and silver devise, reverse red with a golden allegorical figure of a winged dragon and motto "QUERIT QUEM DEVORIT", golden and silver fringes.
They too had a green coat, but their distinguishing colour was that of the noble Condé family: "ventre de biche". It is a reddish light ochre, which I got by mixing gold ochre and titanium white, with just a little bit of Carmine. This colour appeared on collars, cuffs and lapels of the uniform coats, on the saddle cloth and portemanteau, and on the drummer's livery, which was that of the House of Condé (which was next to the Royal Family).
The standard of 1776 to 1791 was of crimson silk on the averse side, strewn with golden lilies, and with the coats of arms of the Condé family, surrounded by the chains of the royal orders; the reverse side was of ventre-de-biche colour, strewn with golden lilies; the fringes were golden.
The tasks of the dragoons were manifold. Principally they were still mounted infantry with trenching tools. They were to clear the paths and roads for the army, to build obstacles on roads and bridges, they were to serve as vanguard of the infantry. Often they were employed as reserves because of their mobility, or they were positioned on the flanks of the army in order to outflank the enemy. At sieges they were to do duties in the trenches, and in case of an attack they were to fight in front, like grenadiers. In a few words: they were crack troops.
At Yorktown, however, they were not used as fighting units, if we may believe the sources. They probably served as a head-quarter's guard, together with the 50 hussars of the Volontaires étrangers de la Marine, who had come with them from the West Indies.

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