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French 4th Hussars at the Battle of Friedland, 1807

Historically, cavalry (from the French word cavalerie, itself derived from "cheval" meaning "horse") are soldiers or warriors who fight mounted on horseback. Cavalry were the most mobile of the combat arms, operating as light cavalry in the roles of reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing in many armies, or as heavy cavalry for decisive shock attacks in other armies. An individual soldier in the cavalry is known by a number of designations depending on era and tactics, such as a cavalryman, horseman, trooper, cataphract, knight, drabant, hussar, uhlan, mamluk, cuirassier, lancer, dragoon, or horse archer. The designation of cavalry was not usually given to any military forces that used other animals for mounts, such as camels or elephants. Infantry who moved on horseback, but dismounted to fight on foot, were known in the early 17th to the early 18th century as dragoons, a class of mounted infantry which in most armies later evolved into standard cavalry while retaining their historic designation.


  • Hast thou not seen my horsemen charge the foe,
    Shot through the arms, cut overthwart the hands,
    Dying their lances with their streaming blood,
    And yet at night carouse within my tent,
    Filling their empty veins with airy wine,
    That, being concocted, turns to crimson blood,
    And wilt thou shun the field for fear of wounds?
  • ‘With burnish’d brand and musketoon
      So gallantly you come,
    I read you for a bold Dragoon,
      That lists the tuck of drum.’
  • The sun, by this, had risen, and clear’d the fog
    From the broad Oxus and the glittering sands:
    And from their tents the Tartar horsemen fil’d
    Into the open plain; so Haman bade;
    Haman, who next to Peran-Wisa rul’d
    The host, and still was in his lusty prime.
    From their black tents, long files of horse, they stream’d:
    As when, some grey November morn, the files,
    In marching order spread, of long-neck’d cranes
    Stream over Casbin, and the southern slopes
    Of Elburz, from the Aralian estuaries,
    Or some frore Caspian reed-bed, southward bound
    For the warm Persian sea-board: so they stream’d
    The Tartars of the Oxus, the King’s guard,
    First, with black sheep-skin caps and with long spears;
    Large men, large steeds; who from Bokhara come
    And Khiva, and ferment the milk of mares.
    Next the more temperate Toorkmuns of the south,
    The Tukas, and the lances of Salore,
    And those from Attruck and the Caspian sands;
    Light men, and on light steeds, who only drink
    The acrid milk of camels, and their wells.
    And then a swarm of wandering horse, who came
    From far, and a more doubtful service own’d;
    The Tartars of Ferghana, from the banks
    Of the Jaxartes, men with scanty beards
    And close-set skull-caps; and those wilder hordes
    Who roam o’er Kipchak and the northern waste,
    Kalmuks and unkemp’d Kuzzaks, tribes who stray
    Nearest the Pole, and wandering Kirghizzes,
    Who come on shaggy ponies from Pamere.
    These all fil’d out from camp into the plain.
    And on the other side the Persians form’d;—
    First a light cloud of horse, Tartars they seem’d,
    The Ilyats of Khorassan, and behind,
    The royal troops of Persia, horse and foot,
    Marshall’d battalions bright in burnish’d steel.
  • At dawn the drums of war were beat,
      Proclaiming, “Thus saith Mohtasim,
    ‘Let all my valiant horsemen meet,
      And every soldier bring with him
    A spotted steed.’” So rode they forth,
      A sight of marvel and of fear;
    Pied horses prancing fiercely north,
      Three lakhs—the cup borne in the rear!

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