Put simply - A unit of cavalry is only of use to a commander if it is in formation, with NCO's and officers in the correct places and able to carry out tasks. The formation and orders exists to carry a unit of whatever size across the field and remain in order. Thus protecting them from enemy cavalry getting in amonst them or catching them in the flank.
For us in the 15th Hussars drill is particularly important as it enables our re-enactment to look and feel much more convincing. It also adds another area of history that can seldom be experienced anywhere else in the world!
Held in libraries around the country are editions of cavalry drill manuals that were published during the queen of the battlefields rein in the armed forces. Anyone who has studied these in any detail will soon come to the same conclusion - the are all un-intelligible and some of the most confusing works ever printed! These historical cavalry drill manuals explain the evolutions and exercises from the individual trooper through to brigade level. Some who marvel at the complexities of these publications will tell you that these needlessly complex explanations of manoeuvres and drill are a feature and should be enjoyed and preserved. However we in the 15th Hussars, given the smaller numbers in our unit needed a "lite" drill manual to work to. It needed to be simple, easy to learn and use on horseback given that we are usually only able to train together once a month during the winter.
This section deals with orders, how to give and understand them. Orders are given in a certain way, so as to avoid misunderstandings. In order to act upon an order it is necessary to understand this way of saying things. This section is not just for NCO's and Officers it for the enlisted men too. A senior Dragoon may find himself in charge of a small group of men on partrol.
There are a number of basic terms used in framing of orders:
To understand the movements it is first necessary to get to grips with the formations or the building blocks that make up a cavalry regiment:
A file is the most basic formation upon which all the others are built. A file is two riders one behind the other. The second rider in the rear covers the man in front.
Three files made from six Dragoons in two ranks. Normally led by a NCO or senior private.
A Sub-division is approximatly half a Division and only used when sufficiant numbers make it of useful size. Led by a Sergeant or Corporal
The Division is a functional unit of either a Squadron or a Troop (depending on active strength), totalling around half a troop. Led by a junior Officer or a senior NCO.
Broadly equivalent to the Infantry Company. Like the Squadron, a Troop may be broken into Divisions and Sub-Divisions. The Troop is normally commanded by a Captain and seconded by a Lieutenant or Cornet. The Troop is Identified by a letter, applied from the right of the line. The troop was usually around 50 - 70 sabres.
Constructed from 2 Troops the Squadron could put as many as 120 - 200 riders into the field. The Squadron formation is broadly equivalent to the infantry Battalion. It was the squadron that was referred to when a Napoleonic army commander was reckoning his cavalry forces (example: General Cotton had 9 squadrons available for the pursuit). Usually led by a senior Captain or a Major.
A regiment in the field was at least 2 squadrons, but some times as many as 6. One squadron remaining at the depot as a recruitment and training force to supply the field squadrons with replacement dragoons. This formation was commanded in the field by a Lieutenant-Colonel or the Senior Major when required.
Generally the order can be broken down into three parts:
Introductory - An indication of which body is to act on the order and of the intended outcome. For example "E Troop will advance..."
Cautionary - A statement of the action to be taken "walk..."
Executive - A sharp word, on which the action commences "MARCH..."
Each of these parts may vary in content, and under some circumstances it is necessary to omit the Introductory and even the Cautionary elements. The most likely situations in which only the executive would be used are "HALT!" and "CHARGE!"
The Introductory should include an indication of who is to act, eg "the 15th Hussars...","Sub-Division...","E-Troop...","Dragoon Roberson...". It should also indicate the outcome of the manoevre, eg "...will advance...","...will draw swords...","...will advance five paces...". Also within the introductory element the dressing should be indicated eg "...by the right...","...by the left..." or "...by the centre...".
The Cautionary should be short and will be words by which the movement is known, eg "...walk...","...draw...","...threes right wheel...","...trot..."
The Executive should be short and sharp. In most cases the word used will be "...MARCH!" others may be "...SWORDS!", "...HALT!" or "...CHARGE!"
The Introductory element should be given in a loud clear voice, not too fast, and using appropriate intonation to emphasise key points. The Cautionary is delivered on a rising or falling tone, and the Executive as a sharp snap. The three elements are separated by short pauses.
To move a Troop formed in line two ranks deep, to the right in column six
abreast at walk:
"E Troop will move to the right in column of route... ranks by threes, right wheel, ...MARCH!"
To advance a troop in line, who are presently moving to their right in
column of threes at the walk,
“E Troop will advance in line,… threes left wheel,… MARCH!”
To turn a party to the right, and move of in that direction at the walk
as in moving to a new position in the line,
“The party will prepare to take ground to the right,… Threes right wheel… walk…MARCH!”
To turn a party to the left, and move off in that direction,
“The party will move to the left in column of threes,…left wheel…walk…MARCH!”
To have a division draw swords, taking timing from the right flank,
"The Division will draw swords.Eyes right,.Draw,.SWORDS!"
To call a Dragoon forward on foot parade,
“Dragoon Robertson will advance,… Three paces forward,… MARCH!”
To halt a Brigade,
From these examples it should be clear that the basic principles hold good for most orders, although on occasion it is necessary to either insert an extra element or to remove an element, as in the order to halt, where there is usually only an Introductory and an Executive. Note that, although normally only the executive is acted upon, in some orders (e.g. draw swords) a movement is required on the cautionary also. These orders seem complex on paper but they become clearer with practice.
Assuming there are two three's (2 groups of 6 riders) formed up in line in two ranks. If you want move the left sub-division behind the right to form a column at the walk:
The Command is: Prepare to form column of threes to the right at the trot,... form column of threes to the right,... trot MARCH!
Assuming there are two three's (2 groups of 6 riders) formed up in line in two ranks. If you want to form both threes into a single line facing the enemy:
The Command is: Prepare to form line to the front;... form line to the front;... MARCH!
Prepare to form line to the front at the trot;... form line to the front;... trot MARCH!
Assuming there are two three's (2 groups of 6 riders) formed up in line next to each other, and you want to wheel to the left or right:
The Command is: Sub-division will prepare to left wheel… trot… MARCH… …FRONT
Prepare to right wheel… trot… MARCH… … FRONT
If you want to begin moving forward or change the pace of an advance:
The Command is: Prepare to advance at the walk;... Walk MARCH!
Prepare to trot;... Trot MARCH!
The Command is: Sub-division will prepare to charge... CHARGE!
This order is used to reform British cavalry after a charge. The rally point is indicated by an NCO or Officer raising his sword above his head:
The Command is: 15th Hussars... REFORM!
This order is used to turn the regiment on the spot and move quickly to the rear (when under fire etc). This is a slightly confusing order or situation. The front (toward the enemy) remains the same throughout the whole manoeuvre. Thus when heading back your left is actually your right! Fortunately it's much clearer in practice:
The Command is: Prepare to take ground to the rear... take ground to the rear... Trot MARCH!
This is an excellent order for moving cavalry to the left or right WITHOUT exposing the flank to the danger of an enemy cavalry charge. Essentially you stay in line shoulder to shoulder with your horse inclined to the left or right:
The Command is: Right incline… walk…MARCH!
Left incline… trot…MARCH!