Cavalry at Waterloo


In order to research the next phase of The Chasseurs, I have decided to rely heavily upon the academic work done by John Keegan in The Face of Battle.
If the story of Waterloo has a 'leitmotiv' it is that of cavalry charging square and being repulsed. It was not absolutely inevitable that horsemen who attempted to break a square should fail... The feat of breaking a square was tried by French cavalry time and again at Waterloo — there were perhaps 12 main assaults during the great afternoon cavalry effort — and always (though infantry in line or column suffered) with a complete lack of success. Practice against poorer troops had led them to expect a different result: a visible shiver of uncertainty along the ranks of the waiting musketeers which would lend the horsemen nerve for the last 50 yads, a ragged spatter of balls over their heads to signal the volley mistimed, then a sudden collapse of resolution and disappearance of order — regiment become drove, backs turned, heads hunched between shoulders, helot-feet flying before the faster hooves of the lords of battle: this, in theory, should have been the effect of such a charge. 
As Jac Weller has shown by careful analysis of formation-widths, the number of cavalrymen in an attacking line was always much lower than the number of infantrymen with whom their onset brought them face to face. If the average strength of a battalion was about 500, it would, formed four deep, present in square a face of about 60 feet across, opposing about 140 men to the approaching French cavalry. They, because of the greater bulk of their horses, could present no more than about 18 men on the same width of front, with another 18 immediately behind, and it was these 36 who would take the brunt of the square's fire... If the cavalry's moral power failed to disarm the infantry — as it always did at Waterloo — then each horseman theoretically became the target for 4 infantrymen. Viewed like this, "Here comes those damnded fools again", seems like an appropriate judgment on the character of the conflict.
These squares are vital for the visual and descriptive aspect of the story. I have a scene constructed so far where one of the dogs leaps up over the rifles and lands on a shoulder; he springs again and lands in the middle of the square and looks around, bewildered. After a volley, the smoke obscures him and he manages to wriggle out through the legs of the soldiers who are wondering where he came from and why he has a French tricolor rag tied around his neck.

More of this will follow; Keegan's work is the top of the line, as per usual.