Dragoons

Dragoons are essential in your army if you are going to game any historical scenarios - they played a very important part at Marston Moor and Naseby.


When one thinks of dragoons in the British Civil Wars one immediately thinks of them lining hedgerows at Naseby. But after that, who were they and what did they do?

Gervase Markham, writing in 1634: “the last sort of which our Horse troopes are called Dragons, which are a kinde of footman on Horsebacke”. He then goes on to describe their weaponry “dragons are short peeces of 16 inches the Barrell, and full musquet bore”.

The horses (usually referred to as 'nags') supplied to dragoons are described as 'ordinary'. Required only for transport, dragoon mounts were more likely to be commandeered cart-horses than what we could call thoroughbreds. The New Model Army budget for a dragoon mount was half that of a cavalry mount.

They were in essence an early mobile infantry. Formed into groups of eleven men, ten would dismount to fight while the eleventh would hold the horses. Holding eleven horses during a battle would seem to be a Herculean feat: reputedly they threaded the reins of one horse onto the next, and so on, so the horseholder held just one set of reins. This method supposedly means that the horses are effectively holding one another and the horseholder only needs to control one horse. I’m not a horsey person, still seems a recipe for disaster if someone starts letting large quantities of gunpowder off close by.

Regiments of dragoons were theoretically organised into 110 men troops (100 fighting men, 10 horseholders), with five troops to a regiment. Each troop carried a swallow tailed guidon.
We have records of precious few Civil War flags, and very few dragoon guidons. As befitting soldiers who were part cavalry, part infantry their guidons designs follow the styles of both regimental types.
The two best recorded regimental sets of guidons are those of Waller’s and Wardlawe’s regiments. Waller’s guidons are yellow with an increasing number of black dots symbolising seniority of the troop, following the regiments of foot style; whereas Wardlawe’s have almost identical guidons differentiation between troops being a different motto, as was often the tradition with cavalry units. A handful of other dragoon guidons were recorded but mostly they cannot be ascribed to specific regiments.

As for coat colours nothing definite recorded: Aston’s might have worn blue, and Usher’s/Washington’s are presumed to have received full suits of red or blue from the 1643 Oxford Army clothing issue.

So how did they fight? The Covenanter, and later Royalist Engager, Sir James Turner wrote "they ought to be taught to give fire on horseback but their service is on foot”.

In open battle they usually supported cavalry on their flanks, taking ditch or hedgelines as they were defenceless against cavalry once they had fired their muskets (lacking the protection of pikes); the most famous example being Okey’s dragoons moving up quickly to take position in Sulby hedges at Naseby. What is less well known, and rather rare in records of dragoons fighting, is that after giving fire from the hedgerows they remounted and pursued the fleeing Royalists.

Often used to lead assaults e.g. Washington’s dragoons firing the first (and only) shots at the defenders at the  Siege of Stockport/ Rupert’s march to York, leading the Royalist assault at Bristol; providing pickets at camp, or defensive works; garrisoning towns; guarding tactical objectives (e.g. Royalist dragoons who had secured Cropredy Bridge prior to the battle. Their firelocks were particularly suited to this role, as they didn’t need a constantly burning match. All of these roles lend themselves very nicely for skirmish scenarios.

As war dragged on the numbers of dragoon regiments and troops slowly dwindled. Dragoons were often subsumed into Regiments of Horse, or less frequently Regiments of Foot.
So how do we represent them on our miniature battlefields?

Personally I’m heavily influenced by Streeter’s Plan. So my dragoons look like Streeter’s. Fighting men on foot, lots of horses with horseholders, and to remind us that they can be mounted a command stand with mounted figures. As my desire to make my armies look like Streeter beats any basing requirements defined by rules systems (I provide both sides, so not a problem) I have based my dragoons as follows:


Fighting men are based individually on penny sized bases – this gives me the ability to use them in what can only be described as a skirmisher deployment, or on sabots lined up as a regiment. My regiments have 12 fighting men.


Horseholders are based on 40mm x 40mm bases, one horseholder per 3 horses. There are 6 horseholder bases per regiment.

We then have to face the thorny issue of mounted, dismounted or both. The deafening cry from figure manufacturers of ‘both’ would be perfect in an ideal world. However, not everyone is able to afford or even wish to purchase, paint and base mounted dragoons and also dismounted. To overcome this issue by having the correct numbers of horses on the table I simply remove the dismounted figures when they are mounted up: mounted dragoons being represented by their horses and their command stand.

I have to say that I am not happy with my dragoon organisation, as there is no command stand. Unfortunately Peter Pig don't currently make dragoon command packs. However, they do allow you to place custom orders of specific figures (thanks to Nigel in the workshop). At the moment I am going for a 40mm x 40mm base, with a standing horse with a hat wearing standard bearer, an empty horse from the dragoon horseholder pack with a standing drummer, and a mounted dragoon on a standing horse to represent the officer. the standard bearer is possibly the weak link here as he has been sculpted wearing breast and back plates. Whether I can solve this by some careful use of a needle file or whether I resort to a paint conversion and hope everyone is as myopic as I am: we shall see.


A dry run of a command stand, now I've seen it I think it will work. (Albeit with the wrong empty horse - guess who forgot to order empty horses and horseholders?)

As we know so little about what dragoons looked like (other than the extensive records of weapons/horse tack issued), you have free reign to represent your dragoons as you wish. Here are my own guidelines for choosing coat colours and guidons.

My logic for conjectural standards is to look at the colonel of the regiment- did they have a regiment of foot and/or, one of horse? If they do, are there any recorded flags? Do they use the same background colour? If so, it’s not too big a leap of faith to assume that dragoon cornets would also have the same background colour.

If neither of these options are available I tend to look at the Colonel’s coat of arms and pick dominant colours from that (remember black was a very expensive dye, so if black is a dominant colour on the coat of arms it would probably be used for a flag rather than a coat colour.) Is there a Sealed Knot/ECWS unit representing your unit? If there is, brilliant. Copy theirs! If all that fails I just go for a colour I fancy.

The same goes for coat colours: I look for any known coat colours issued to the Colonel’s Regiment of Foot and simply replicate that for his dragoons. If the Colonel doesn’t have a Regiment of Foot I start looking for colours of coats of regiments from the same area, or if the regiment was in a known place at the time of an army refit. For example, the Oxford Army was issued new suits of red or blue in 1643; and a large number of Parliamentarian regiments were issued red or grey coats at Gloucester. Still no luck? Then I go for coats of arms/re-enactors or simply choose a colour I like.

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