With the newly announced Pike & Shotte Epic Battles coming soon to tabletops near you, now’s a perfect time to discuss one of the iconic troop types of the era – the mounted infantrymen known as ‘dragoons’. Such troops earned lasting renown during the Napoleonic Wars and the form endures to this day in the form of light armoured regiments, but it was during the Thirty Years’ War and English Civil Wars, that dragoons really came into their own. Initially formed as mobile foot soldiers (a concept not too far removed from the mounted archers of the late Medieval period) who would ride swiftly to battle and dismount to fight, they had by the seventeenth century morphed into infantrymen who could fight on horseback if necessary – the balance, however, was still firmly in favour of dismounted action.
Equipped with smaller and poorer-quality horses than ‘proper’ cavalry, the dragoons retained infantry ranks and organisation, and carried a variety of firearms as well as a sword, enabling them to act as musketeers when on foot. This made them ideal for all kinds of work, much of it either tedious and unglamourous, or unenviably dangerous! Well-suited to guarding artillery parks, baggage trains, and lines of communication, they were also the first choice for scouting ahead of an army, seizing vital bridges or ‘foraging’ supplies from nearby villages. If an enemy position or fortification had to be stormed, then it was the dragoons who would often be sent forwards to lead the assault as part of the ‘forlorn hope’. In less dramatic times, they were often simply used as labourers and pioneers – not an ideal posting for a lazy soldier! Disliked by the infantry (as they didn’t have to walk everywhere!), but lacking the status of ‘real’ cavalry, the dragoon was nevertheless an essential part of the armies of the Pike & Shotte era.
Recruit Your Troops
As befits such a ubiquitous troop type, we’ve got plenty of models for them! In 28mm, the Dragoons boxed set is the perfect way to include a unit of this oft-overlooked cavalry type in your battalia, giving you a full unit, both mounted (with some rather optimistically giving fire) and going into action on foot, led by a dashing officer and ensign. Fighting in loose formation, rather than the tight blocks and ranks more typical of infantry of the period, they make a lovely contrast on the battlefield, and a great painting challenge or palate cleanser. There’s even a set with bonnets for the Covenanter players out there! For those wondering where the horses go when the dragoons dismount (historically, one man in four was sent to the rear with the animals), there’s also the excellent Horse Holder, who’s one of my favourite miniatures and makes an ideal piece of set dressing for any baggage train or table. Reflecting the most dangerous tasks assigned to the dragoons, the Storming Party with Petard set brings a set of fantastically dynamic models to the tabletop, perfect for demolishing any inconvenient buildings or breaching walls. When not delivering explosive death (or running away bravely), they also make fantastic additional models for your dragoon units!
Naturally, we couldn’t bring out Pike & Shotte: Epic Battles without the dragoons, and you’ll find them in both the Push of Pike starter set and both Cavalry boxed sets. Each Cavalry sprue features 3 mounted and 5 dismounted dragoons, giving you plenty of daring mounted infantrymen to forge ahead of your massed battalia or guard your baggage train.
On the Table
On the Pike & Shotte tabletop, dragoon units make for fascinating and unique skirmishers, being able to mount and dismount freely (provided they aren’t Disordered), and having access to the Fire and Evade special rule, making them very difficult indeed to be engaged in melee combat – perfect for annoying and trapping over-eager enemy cavalry! As Marauders they can be deployed (as in real life) far from their commanders without penalty, which makes them ideal for those awkward corners of the table where a battalia would be wasted, but which still need some troops present. While very useful, what dragoons explicitly aren’t, however, are frontline troops. With a rather weedy 5+ Morale and Stamina of 3, they live and die by being hard to get hold of. If caught in melee or facing off against significant shooting, don’t expect them to hang about for long! Used well, however, they can be a wonderfully irritating thorn in your enemy’s side.
Dismount! Horses to the rear! Prepare to move out!
Other articles in the Forces of Fame Series:
Bolt Action – The Tiger I; Princess Elizabeth (Jubilee Special); Japanese Special Naval Landing Force; M18 Hellcat; Centurion Mk III; British Airborne;
Blood Red Skies – Messerschmitt Bf 110; Ki-43 II ‘Oscar’; Grumman F9F Panther;
Victory at Sea – The Bismarck; Fletcher-Class Destroyers; Kongō;
Pike & Shotte – Cuirassiers; Polish Winged Hussars;
Black Powder (& Black Powder Epic Battles) – The Iron Brigade; 95th Rifles;
Black Seas – HMS Victory;
Hail Caesar / SPQR – Dacian Falxmen; Hoplites;