Dragoons in Hungary
The dragoons were very special soldiers of the age. They were the light cavalrymen of the western armies, in fact, “mounted infantrymen”.
They were originally footmen who used horses so as to approach the enemy faster. They could be used against cavalry and infantry alike. They were armed according to this: their most important weapon was the wheel-lock rifle supplied with a bayonet (it was not a socket bayonet just a ring-bayonet or its forerunner, the plug-bayonet which was already in use at the re-taking of Buda in 1686).
The leaden bullet weighed about 26 grams. The range of fire was about 350-500 meters. They had infantry swords or one-sided broadswords called “pallos”.
More importantly, they also had two wheellock pistols hanging from the two sides of their saddles. They fired them in a volley when assaulting the enemy.
They wore no armor as protection.
As for Hungary, Dragoons appeared in the 15-Year-War. According to a letter from the Military Council of the Court in December 1602, such a military unit was ordered to be established that “was able to fight both on horseback and on foot”. They planned to create four units, each containing 100 men. The letter gave an order to recruit “reiters” (riders) from the Walloon infantry regiment of T’Serclaes Tilly. Their armor was not mentioned but it is assumed that they could have worn a light breastplate. The above-mentioned units were set up in 1603 and served until 1605.
Then, their captain called Laurentio de Rame was instructed to organize the fifth unit. They were also mentioned as the Carpiner unit (armed with short rifles) and they were in Kőszeg Castle, under the command of Tilly.
In Hungary, we know about five other units turned into Dragoons from the Strassoldo regiment and there was one more Dragoon unit, led by Count Henri Du Val of Dampierre. He gained renown for the famous assaults he launched against the Turks at Gyula and Temesvár in 1604.
The establishment of dragoons evolved from the practice of sometimes transporting infantry by horse when the speed of movement was needed. In 1552 Prince Alexander of Parma mounted several companies of infantry on pack horses to achieve surprise. Another early instance was ordered by Louis of Nassau in 1572 during operations near Mons in Hainaut when 500 infantry were transported this way.
It is also suggested the first dragoons were raised by Marshal de Brissac in 1600. According to old German literature, dragoons were invented by Count Ernst von Mansfeld, one of the greatest German military commanders, in the early 1620s. There are other instances of mounted infantry predating this. However, Mansfeld, who had learned his profession in Hungary and the Netherlands, often used horses to make his foot troops more mobile, creating what was called an “armée volante” (French for flying army).
In the 16th century, during the Spanish civil wars in Peru conquistadors fought on a horse with arquebuses, prefiguring the origin of European dragoons.
The name possibly derives from an early weapon, a short wheellock called a dragon because the first dragoons raised in France had their carbine’s muzzle decorated with a dragon’s head. The practice comes from a time when all gunpowder weapons had distinctive names, including the culverin, serpentine, falcon, falconet, etc.
It is also sometimes claimed a galloping infantryman with his loose coat and the burning match resembled a dragon.
It has also been suggested that the name derives from the German “tragen” or the Dutch “dragen”, both being the verb “to carry” in their respective languages.
Source: partly from Szerecz Miklós
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