Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saxon Heavy Cavalry - Napoleonic Wars

Organization of the Saxon Heavy Cavalry

In 1763, the Cavalry arm of the Electorate of Saxony was composed of eight regiments of Cuirassiers and one of Dragoons. The oldest of these, the Garde du Corps, dated back to before the Thirty Years War, with the Kurfurst regiment tracing its origins back to 1680, and the von Zastrow regiment back to 1696. By 1799, there were three Heavy Cavalry Regiments in the army, plus the Garde du Corps. They all rode excellent, expensive Holstein horses, with those of the Garde du Corps being black (except that for officers of that regiment riding golden bays).

The Garde du Corps had 4 squadrons with a theoretical strength of 429 men; the other Heavy regiments had 4 squadrons totaling up to 734 men each. Most of the fine horseflesh of these regiments was appropriated by the French in the aftermath of the debacle of 1806, and it was not until war with Austria became imminent in early 1809 that the bulk of the horses were replaced.  The Kurfust regiment became the Koenig regiment when Saxony became a Kingdom within the Confederation of the Rhine, and then the Leib regiment in 1809.

Uniforms of the Saxon Heavy Caavlry

Prior to 1810, the Saxon Heavy Cavalry regiments wore single breasted, buff colored tunics with the facing colors on the cuffs, turnbacks, and collar. The regimental lace appeared as edging on the collar, cuffs, shoulder straps, turnbacks, and down the front seam of the tunic. Vests were in the facing color, again trimmed with the regimental lace. Buff colored breeches were worn. Belts were white. Headwear was a black bicorn with a loop, and button, corner tassels, and a tall white plume. Trumpeters are said to have worn reversed colors, with red plumes on their hats. The plumes of Officers had a black base, while those of the NCO's had a black tip.

The shabraques were in the facing color, trimmed with the regimental lace, with the monarch's "FA" cipher in the corners. Saddle covers were of white or black sheepskin. Horse furniture was of black leather.

Saxon Heavy Cavalry, Regimental Distinctions, 1800 - 1809

Facing Color
Regimental Lace
Garde du Corps
Dark Blue
Yellow w/ 2 red stripes
Yellow w/ red & black stripes
Kurfurst, later Koenig, then  Leib
Yellow w/ red edges
Kochtsky, later Zastrow
Yellow w/ black and white edges
* The Karabiniers were disbanded in 1810, with the men and horses distributed to the other three heavy regiments, increasing their strength to 768 men each.

From 1810 the uniforms of the Heavy cavalry underwent major changes. The Bicorn gave way to a brass helmet in 1810. The helmet had a brass comb with a black crest and a white plume, with a black fur turban (with a gold oak leaf pattern overlaid for officers). Black Cuirasses (front plates only)were officially part of the equipment for the Leib (lined red) and von Zastrow (lined yellow) regiments , but seem to have been seldom worn; none of the regiments brought theirs with them on the Russian campaign in 1812, for example. Officers of the Garde du Corps had gold belts, white for everyone else.

Officer, Saxon Garde du Corps, 1810 - 1813 (Knoetel)

From 1810, the Leib and von Zastrow Cuirassiers changed to white tunics and pants (one source says much earlier, in the later 18th century), whilst retaining their former red  and yellow facings respectively. The patterns of the regimental lace also changed. Knoetel shows yellow lace (gold for officers) for The Garde du Corps and Leib Cuirassiers,  white lace (silver for officers) for von Zastrow. However, far more complex lace designs, yet different form the earlier ones listed under pre 1810, are shown (possibly only for use with full dress uniforms) in detail on this site:

From 1810, the Trumpeters wore helmets with red crests and plumes.Trumpeter's tunics from 1810 were red faced dark blue for the Garde du Corps, red faced white for the Leib-regiment, and yellow faced white for the von Zastrow regiment. Trumpets were silver with gold cords (Osprey says blue and white cords) for the Garde du Corps, brass with gold cords for ther Leib Cuirassiers,, and black mixed with yellow for the von Zastrow Cuirassiers.

Here are some of my vintage Minifigs again, depicting the Leib-Kurassiere Garde regiment. For field wear, dark grey pants with a red stripe down the outside seam might also be worn. 

Note the red tunic, crest, and plume of the Trumpeter, whose uniform also best shows the placemnent of the regimental lace. For whatever reason, this particular unit is the Saxon Cuirassier regiment least commonly seen on our tabletops!

The portmanteau of the heavy cavalry regiments were in the facing colors:  in 1813, dark blue for the Garde du Corps, yellow for von Zastrow, and red, as seen here, for the Leib regiment. The unique Saxon style standards with distinct borders by regiment were carried by the heavy cavalry regiments as well. 

Arms of Saxony, as seen on the standards

There are a great many conflicting versions of the details of the uniforms of the Saxon army, and none more so than with regard to these heavy cavalry regiments. See the multiple sources listed in the first post of the series on Saxony for many additional images and references, including details of the patterns for the standards, lace, etc. 


  1. Great unit to have to break through enemy field fortifications i.e. 1812 Russians in Raeviski Great Redoubt :o)

  2. This unit did indeed represent the Saxon HC brigade at our own versions of Borodino in 2012, and it did well!

  3. Some handy information here, Gonsalvo. I've been thinking of building up a Saxon Army as a kind of 'representative' French 'ally-in-Germany'. These would be in plastics as as a kind of 'match' for a whole lot of plastic Prussians that came my way a couple of years ago. My other Napoleonic armies are almost entirely metal.

    1. The Saxons make a nice compliment to the French in army in many ways. King Friedrich August, after the debacle of 1806, was so grateful to Napoleon for his elevation to Kingship and continued rule that he was thereafter one of his staunchest supporters, the army defecting before he would have. As we have seen, Saxony paid the price for that, and was one of the big losers at the Congress of Vienna, along with France and Denmark. I have three more posts planned on the Saxons, so stay tuned over the next several months!

  4. It takes a great paint job to keep these old treasures looking good on the table like you do.

    1. Thanks! I'd say the paint jobs are adequate, myself; a coat of magic wash might help bring out some of the detail on the white plumes and uniform.

  5. Another very interesting and useful article on the Saxon heavy cavalry. One day, I may paint some!

    Have you seen the Saxon heavies here:

    Amazing work!

    1. Those are beautiful indeed; Eureka figures, I think. I saw them posted on TMP recently. I'd agreed with one of the commenters there that the spotted look on the crests isn't to my liking, but aside from that they are superb!

  6. Another great article, looking forward to the rest of the series! :)

  7. Nice job Peter. With Calpe and Westfalia Mins producing Saxon foot and artillery and the Eureka Heavies, maybe your next project?

    1. Thanks, Joe. There certainly are a lot of nice new Saxon figures coming out. I could see adding a unit of Eureka HC, but that's probably about my limit for Saxons _I already have quite a sizable contingent (artillery, generals, Light Infantry Grenadiers and Foot Guards are yet to come). Spanish are actually next on the list for late 2015 - 2016!

  8. Good post. I need to look at the Dennewitz OB so I know exactly what else I need.
    I really enjoy the pictures of your Minfigs.

    1. Yes, the Saxons were heavily engaged at Dennewitz; I had a lot of fun running that battle at Historicon 2003. Sadly no pictures of the event survived computer OS changes.

  9. Another very useful post Peter. I have the Eureka von Zastrow and Garde du Corps awaiting my attention at some stage. Dennewitz is one of those battles I would love to recreate, although I would probably try to be a little more adventurous with my Swedish contingent than Bernadotte ultimately was, when they finally arrived. I am still very much looking forward to your Spanish next year (which doesn't seem that far away now).

    1. You have a couple of fine regiments to paint there; hopefully this post will prove an incentive to get them on the painting table and done! Dennewitz is a good action to game, and usually players will be more aggressive than Bernadotte was with his "precious Swedes". Yes, hope to have my first Spanish unit done starting roughly a year from now!

  10. Rather late to the party, and slightly off-topic as I will be referring onlt to Saxon HC prior to the defeat at Jena, but I have to take issue with one point. There is in fact very little conflict about the uniforms of the Saxon HC, and nearly all that there is comes from poor English translations from the German originals.
    I have been fortunate enough to recently move to the Königreich Sachsen, to Ludwigsdorf, and reading the original German available here. What you have listed is absolutely correct.
    The most errors, confusions, contradictions come from the English habit of mixing up units, due to all Saxon HC being called HC, and all four regiments being considered as Guard cavalry.
    In fact, the first two listed were HC Karabiniers, the second two Cuirassiers, something made clear in the German originals, but confused in translation as all would also be listed as HC and Guard, and English translations tended to miss the first part and simply caption all Saxon HC as HC and/or guard units.
    The biggest error regards use of breast plates on the HC. The first two, the Karabiniers, wore no armour. Ever. The Cuirassiers wore front breast plates only, and these were blackened. At some point before 1812 all armour was lost. In 1810 they are reported to have left their armour at the depot before leaving, suggesting that it was purely a ceremonial addition by then, but it was certainly worn in 1805/1806.
    So your photos are correct for the Russian campaign and later, but would be wrong for Jena. But would be correct for te 2nd Regiment at all times! Minor details of lace, and the obvious one of headgear, excepted, of course.
    Just a personal peeve, as I get a bit upset with bare-chested Cuirassiers and armoured Garde riding out on the table-tops of Jena and being told 'nobody really knows'. Yes, they do! The Germans know well enough, it's only the English sources, all quoting each other, which get in a muddle!

    1. Thanks for dropping by; information from those closer to the source both geographically and linguistically is always welcome.

      I If I were to game Jena, you'd have to put up with French in 1809 uniforms, Saxons in 1810 uniforms, and Prussians in 1813 uniforms... because that's what I have! :-)