The Swedish Cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars


By Björn Bergérus

Stockholm, Sweden 2005-2006



The Swedish Cavalry Regiments of the Napoleonic Wars


The regiments are noted in alphabetical order according to their names in 1813 - or the name before being disbanded or converted into infantry. The English name-translations are found within parenthesis.


A regiment with an asterisk (*) after its name existed as a cavalry regiment in 1813. This was the time of the German War of Liberation that culminated with the great battle of Leipzig – ‘The Battle of the Nations’ - in mid October that year. Some 30.000 Swedish made up the Swedish contingent of the Army of the North (totalling some 158.000 including Prussian, Russian and even some very minor elements of British) led by the former French Marshal, now Crown Prince of Sweden, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Virtually every Swedish regiment were represented.


The Finnish cavalry regiments up till 1809 are also noted below, as Sweden-Finland was united under the same king since the Middle Ages until the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-1809, when Finland became an independent Grand-Duchy under the Russian Tsar.


·        Adelsfanan i Sverige och Finland (The Flag of Nobles in Sweden and Finland)

This cavalry regiment was one of oldest in the world, formed some time around 1425. It was made up of nobles, originally part of the old ‘vassal’ duty to the King. In the 1680ies the unit consisted of 6 companies (600 men in total). One of the companies was stationed in Finland. Its importance gradually diminished and in 1809 the unit was disbanded seen as an archaic institution that was no longer needed.


·        Bohusläns dragonregemente (The Bohuslän Dragoon Regiment)

The regiment’s name refers to its recruitment area ‘Bohuslän’ - a province in the southwest of Sweden. The regiment was converted into infantry already in 1791 and renamed the Bohusläns regemente (The Bohuslän Regiment).


·        Jämtlands hästjägarskvadron * (The Jämtland Mounted Rifle Squadron)

This was probably the cavalry regiment based farthest north in the world. The name refers to its recruitment area, as well as its main area of operations - ‘Jämtland’ – a province high up north in western Sweden, just opposite the Norwegian city of Trondheim (at this time part of the joint Danish-Norwegian kingdom, which was often at war with Sweden). The unit got its name Jämtlands hästjägarskvadron in 1802, its earlier name being Jämtlands kavallerikompani (The Jämtland Cavalry Company) – probably not indicating any real changes, but rather a change in the names used to describe the same organisation (see the notes on organisation below).


·        Karelska dragonkåren (The Karelian Dragoon Corps)

This Finnish regiment’s name refers to its recruitment area, as well as its main area of operations – Karelen – the southeast border-region between Finland and Russia. The unit was disbanded after the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-09, when Finland became an independent Grand Duchy under the Russian Tsar until Finland’s independence in 1917.


·        Livdragonregementet (The Life Dragoon Regiment)

This Finnish regiment was converted into light infantry already in 1791 and was then formed into two battalions – one part of the infantry regiment of Åbo läns regemente, the other of Björneborgs regemente.


·        Livgardet till häst * – the Horse Guards.

This unit originated in Finland (based in Borgå/Porvoo, very close to Helsinki). The unit was promoted to Guards’ status – Lätta dragonerna av Livgardet (The Light Dragoons of the Life Guards) - after the bloodless coup d’état of the Swedish king Gustavus III. In 1793 the unit was renamed Livhusarregementet (The Life Hussar Regiment), and in 1797 Livdragonkåren (The Life Dragoon Corps) and finally got the name Livgardet till häst (The Horse Guards) in 1806.


·        Livregementsbrigadens kyrassiärkår * (the Cuirassier Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade)

This unit originated from the Livregementet till häst (the Mounted Life Regiment), which was divided into three separate units in 1791:

-         Livregementsbrigadens kyrassiärkår (the Cuirassier Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade)

-         Livregementsbrigadens lätta dragonkår (the Light Dragoon Corps of the Life Regiment Brigad)

-         Livregementsbrigadens lätta infanteribataljon (the Light Infantry Battalion of the Life Regiment Brigade) – an infantry regiment.

In 1815 the Cuirassier Corps was renamed Livregementets dragonkår (the Dragoon Corps of the Life Regiment). The regiment’s recruitment area was the Province of Uppland, stretching north from the Swedish capital of Stockholm to around the town of Uppsala.


·        Livregementsbrigadens husarkår * (The Hussar Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade)

This regiment also originated from the Livregementet till häst (the Mounted Life Regiment) that was divided into three separate units in 1791 – see above. It got its name when the Light Dragoon Corps was converted into hussars in 1795. In 1815 the name was changed to Livregementets husarkår (the Hussar Corps of the Life Regiment). The regiment’s recruitment area was the Provinces of Västmanland and Närke – west and southwest of the lake Mälaren.


·        Mörnerska husarregementet * (The Mörner Hussar Regiment)

This regiment would have got its name from its commander ’Mörner’ in 1801. Before that, since 1797, it had been the Hornska Husarregementet (the Horn Hussar Regiment; ‘Horn’ also being a surname of a Noble family in Sweden) and before that simply the Husarregementet (the Hussar Regiment). It recruited from the south and southwest of Sweden but also, as it seems, from the province of Pomerania along the north Polish-German coast, which since the peace of Westphalia in 1648 had been part of the Swedish kingdom (until 1814). During 1813 and the German War of Liberation, many of the professionally hired soldiers of this regiment were likely to have been of German descent. The language of command within the unit seems to have been German.


·        Nylands kavalleriregemente (The Nyland Cavalry Regiment)

This Finnish unit originated from the Tavastehus och Nylands kavalleriregemente (the Tavastehus and Nyland Cavalry Regiment). The name originated from its recruitment area around Tavastehus/Hämeenlinna and the province of Nyland in the south of Finland. Part of the regiment was converted into a battalion of light infantry of the Tavastehus infantry regiment. Other parts of the regiment underwent several reorganizations before it became the Nyland Cavalry Regiment in 1805. The unit was disbanded after the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-09.


·        Smålands dragonregemente * (The Småland Dragoon Regiment)

This regiment’s name refers to its recruitment area ‘Småland’ - a province in the southeast of Sweden. Smålands kavalleriregemente (the Småland Cavalry Regiment), as it was first called, was renamed in 1801 to Smålands lätta dragoner (the Småland Light Dragoons). In 1806 it got its name Smålands dragonregemente (the Småland Dragoon Regiment). In 1812 part of the regiment was converted into infantry - Smålands dragonrementes infanteribataljon (the Infantry Battalion of the Småland Dragoon Regiment).


·        Skånska husarregemtet * (The Scanian Hussar Regiment)

This regiment’s name refers to the most southern province in Sweden - Skåne (Scania). The unit was first named the Norra skånska kavalleriregementet (the North Scanian Cavalry Regiment), but was renamed in 1801 to Skånska linjedragonregementet (the Scanian Dragoon Regiment of the Line). In 1807, when the regiment was converted into hussars, it got the name Skånska husarregementet (the Scanian Hussar Regiment).


·        Skånska karabinjärregementet * (The Scanian Carabineer Regiment)

This regiment got its name in 1805. Before that it was named the Norra skånska kavalleriregementet (the North Scanian Cavalry Regiment). Besides the Cuirassier Corps, this was the only heavy cavalry regiment remaining in 1813. The regiment had its base at Ljungbyhed, a town in the northwest of Skåne (Scania) – the most southern province in Sweden.


·        Västgöta dragonregemente (The Västgöta Dragoon Regiment)

This regiment started the period under the name Västgöta kavalleriregemente (the Västgöta Cavalry Regiment). In 1792 it was converted into dragoons and in 1802 got the name Västgöta linjedragonregemente (the Västgöta Dragoon Regiment of the Line) and in 1806 simply the Västgöta dragonregemente (the Västgöta Dragoon Regiment). In 1811 it was dismounted and converted into infantry under the name Västgöta regemente (the Västgöta Regiment). The regiment’s name refers to its recruitment area of Västergötland – a province in the southwest of Sweden between the lakes Vänern and Vättern.


·        Östgöta kavalleriregemente (The Östgöta Cavalry Regiment)

This regiment was dismounted and converted into infantry already in 1791 under the name Livgrenadjärregementets rusthållsdivision (the Rusthållsdivision of the Life Grenadier Regiment; for an explanation of the word “rusthåll” see the notes on recruitment below). After 1816 it was renamed the Andra livgrenadjärregementet (the Second Life Grenadier Regiment). The regiment’s name refers to the province of Östergötland in the southeast of Sweden, east of the lake Vättern.




All Swedish-Finnish cavalry regiments started the period as part of the Swedish system of the Indelningsverket (the ‘Allotment System Office’), which for the cavalry was known under the name “Rusthållet”. It meant that a for taxation-purposes defined farmstead - ‘rusthåll’ - provided for a fully equipped and mounted cavalryman in return for tax exemption and own exemption for military draft.


During peacetime the cavalryman would have lived in a small croft, managing his own little patch of land, which then supported himself and his family, besides any extra necessities provided to him by the ‘rusthåll’. It was often customary that the trooper overtook not only the number, but also the name of the cavalryman that he replaced; often a short easy-to-remember soldier’s name, like Stål (Steel), Glad (Happy), Borg (Fort) etc. Sometimes the trooper also overtook the widow of his predecessor, that would then have prevented her from being sent to the poorhouse - perhaps not so romantic, but practical in a time when social welfare were at a minimum.


This system of the ‘indelningsverket’ was designed during the 17th century and based on a largely rurally based economy. The system allowed Sweden to keep a fairly large standing army that could be summoned on short notice and at no noticeable cost in the state’s budget. The troopers would not either have been any riff-raff, but men carefully selected and approved by the Crown (the State was often referred to as the “Crown”) – usually particularly tall and strong men. To be able to better support them selves the troopers would many times come to act as the handyman in the local community. Through the Church, the level of education would probably also have been a bit above average for its time.


By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the economy of all European countries had become more monetary based and it is no question that the allotment system described above meant that large potential sums of tax was kept away from the state’s Treasury. It is thus symptomatic that Sweden had constant difficulties in balancing its budget and finding enough money for all things necessary during these troubled times. The answer often came as financial support from Great Britain, which paid large sums against Sweden maintaining a certain number of troops and keeping the fortifications in Stralsund in shape. Stralsund being the main city in Swedish Pomerania (today part of North Poland and Germany), offering a perfect staging ground for back stab operations against the Napoleonic French on the continent.


The allotment system also had other drawbacks in that it did not allow for large reinforcements, as it exempted most of the population from military draft. During the Great Northern Wars (1718-1721) this problem was solved in that it was decided that a certain number of farmsteads temporarily also had to provide for a reservist. During the Napoleonic wars other solutions were sought – by enlistment of professionals, and during the crisis of the Russo-Swedish war in 1808-09 by creating a militia - and eventually by conscription in 1813. The resistance from the rural population against the idea of conscription was considerable, though. The protests even resulted in local uprisings, which were nevertheless quickly quelled – in one instance in particular 30 labourers were killed and several hundreds arrested.


The cavalry was under constant reorganisation during this period – and as a result from the above changes, some of the cavalry regiments of the allotment system were converted, fully or partly, into infantry – often in 1791 or before or around the turn of the century. Other regiments that were converted into Hussars became professionally hired units with troopers that received cash wages and served more or less full-time. The Guards and other specialised troops – like the artillery and engineers – were also full time paid professionals.





All Swedish-Finnish cavalry started the period as battle cavalry in the same manner as it had been organised during the Great Northern Wars (1718-21) - a regiment comprising of eight companies of 125 troopers each. The smallest tactical unit being the squadron comprising of two such companies (250 troopers).


During the Napoleonic wars it was deemed in Sweden that the role of the cavalry had changed from being the battle-winning arm to becoming more important in the role of skirmishing, reconnaissance and pursuit. For these purposes the old squadron of 250 troopers was too large a unit. Thus the company overtook the role as the smallest tactical unit, but at the same time adopting the old name of ‘squadron’. In this respect the term company and squadron was to some extent used interchangeably in Sweden during this period (which also explains the name change of the Jämtlands hästjägarskvadron mentioned above).


During the reforms under the Crown Prince Bernadotte the strength of a normal (new) squadron was reduced in strength from 125 to around 90 or sometimes 100 troopers.


The light cavalry – hussars and light dragoons – made up the great majority of Swedish cavalry. The light cavalry being more suited for the new main role thought for the cavalry - of skirmishing, reconnaissance and pursuit - as described above. Of the 8 cavalry units in Sweden in 1813 only two remained heavy, the Cuirassier Corps and the Scanian Carabineers.


During the reign of Gustav IV Adolf a larger tactical formation for the cavalry was conceived – the brigade – often consisting of eight squadrons, but could have as many as 28, totalling 1.000-3.500 cavalry at theoretical full strength. Before the campaign in Germany in 1813 an even higher tactical cavalry formation was also created called “fördelning” of perhaps 40 squadrons up - that is from a theoretical full strength of 3.500 troopers up. With added horse artillery, the brigade as well as the ‘fördelning’, could act as an independent unit on a more operational level.


The typical operational unit of the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-09 was otherwise often an independent mixed brigade. Usually it would have comprised of 6 battalions of infantry of the line, 1 battalion of Jägare (sharpshooters), 2 squadrons of hussars or dragoons and 1 battery of field artillery (6-8 guns – often 5-6 6-pdr guns and 1-2 8-pdr howitzers) – at full strength some 4.500 men.


In 1813 the normal operational unit would have been a mixed ‘fördelning’ (similar to a division), comprising of up to 12 battalions of infantry of the line (2 brigades), 1 battalion of Jägare (sharpshooters), 8 squadrons of hussars/dragoons and 1 division of artillery (some 16 guns) – at full theoretical strength some 9.000 men.



The Swedish Cavalry in Germany 1813


The below tables show the Swedish cavalry regiments present in Germany during the summer of 1813 - part of the Army of the North led by the Swedish Crown Prince Bernadotte.


Of the Swedish 1st Division’s 1st Brigade

4 squadrons of Livgardet till häst – the Horse Guard

6 squadrons of Smålands dragonregemente – The Småland Dragoon Regiment


Of the Swedish 2nd Division’s Cavalry Brigade

6 squadrons of Skånska husarregementet – the Scanian Hussar Regiment


Of the Swedish 3rd Division’s Cavalry Brigade

8 squadrons of Mörnerska husarregementet – the Mörner Hussar Regiment


Of the Swedish Cavalry Reserve

4 squadrons of Livregementsbrigadens kyrassiärkår – the Cuirassier Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade

4 squadrons of Skånska karabinjärregementet – The Scanian Carabineer Regiment






The basic armament for the cavalry was the sword and two pistols. All regiments had sabres (slightly curved), except the Cuirassiers and Carabineers, which had straight swords – pallasches.


The sabre was around 87 cm (34,25 inches) long and the pallasch 95,7 cm (37,68 inches).


The pistols carried were one rifled and one smoothbore. Both pistols could be used together with a detachable rifle-butt, which would then substitute for the smoothbore carbine that was discarded for all cavalry regiments in 1806 (except possibly for the carabineers). A pistol with the detachable rifle-butt was considerably lighter to carry than a carbine and temporary test-shots made seemed to show that accuracy was as good, if not better. Both pistols used the same ramrod.


The rifled pistol was set for a range of 600 feet, which would mean a maximum range of about 170 m (189 yards). The smoothbore pistol had an effective range of some 40 m (44,5 yards).


The rifled pistol used a cartridge with a led ball of 20 g and a 6 g black powder charge. In 1808 it was ordered that only “rännkulor” should be used for the smoothbore pistol. A “rännkula” would have comprised of several small balls in the same cartridge, probably simulating the effect of a shotgun increasing the chance of hitting and hurting an enemy in close combat.


24 rounds of ammunition per pistol were carried.





The Swedish cavalry tactics used when skirmishing (which probably differed little from that of other nations) was to keep an open chain of cavalry in either one or two lines, where the trooper should take special care in keeping his position in the chain. The maximum distance between troopers was 30-35 m (33-40 yards), but never farther away than the next man in the chain could be seen. Within that basic formation the trooper had own freedom of manoeuvre. According to regulation, hen within range of enemy fire, the trooper was never to ride in straight lines, but always – except when riding very fast – turning this way and that and leaning either this way or that to make a more difficult target. Each time the enemy aimed he was to lean forward along the length of the horse’s neck on the opposite side in relation to the firing enemy. The enemy could be engaged by two means – either at a distance using the pistols – or as a ‘swarm-attack’ when each and everyone was to attack the enemy closest to him using all weapons at his disposal (the pistols and sabre). The troopers were always to work together closely two and two, being able to watch each other’s backs at all times.


When fighting in close order precision and order was instead emphasised. Close order was primarily meant for charging and breaking the enemy. The speed should gradually be increased. At the same time as the speed increased the trumpeter would fall back behind the squadron. A speedy trot was followed by full gallop at 30-35 m from the enemy (or as fast as keeping the formation would allow) and the speed increased even further at 9-12 m from the enemy’s position. Regulation then states that the enemy should be hit with the greatest possible violence, the men shouting “hurrah”, and then cutting and stabbing at whatever enemy they could, while passing, not stopping, but using their utmost force to force their way through the enemy’s position and then quickly rally behind the squadron commander for new orders. During the charge the officers at the flanks should try to resist if the formation’s front to widen, while the officer reserve should push forward anyone falling behind. This was the regulation and from the records of the cavalry charge at Bornhøved in December 1814 mentioned below (about the quality of the Swedish cavalry) this was exactly what was done – to the letter.


The troopers were also supposed to know how to fight on foot, although this came last in the training manual.


During battle the cavalry was led by the sound of the bugle or alternatively a whistle. There were twenty different signals. The officers had to know them all, but the troopers only had to recognise four – to attack, retreat, reform and rally.



The Quality of the Swedish Cavalry


The Swedish cavalry would have started the period of perhaps a somewhat lower quality than its major neighbouring states’. This was due to the simple fact that recurrent regular training of the troops had been neglected, since the Swedish government could rarely afford the cost. High quality breed would also have been in somewhat short supply in Sweden, although the horses would still have been more than adequate for the job. Regulation required all army horses to be “healthy, strong and agile” and not less than four years old and not more than eight. The regulation minimum height behind the saddle for an unshod horse was 1.39 m (4,56 feet) and the maximum 1.45 m (4,75 feet). By today’s standards, a horse of this size would barely pass as a pony. However, the Cuirassier Corps and the Scanian Carabineers - the two Swedish heavy cavalry regiments - were to have horses exceeding 1,45 m in height. Any colour of the horse was generally accepted, but for the heavies – the Cuirassiers and Carabineers – they had to be of dark colour. The preferred colour of the horses for the trumpeters was white or grey for all regiments.


Once the war had started, despite the neglected training, it seems that the troopers shaped up quickly and well. This was probably due to – and as explained above - the god ‘raw-material’ of the troops, which then would have been without complaints or even excellent, the horses also being good, although by present standards small. During the Pomeranian War 1805-07 and the Russo Swedish war of 1808-09, the quality of the Swedish cavalry would thus have been no less than average. By this time the hussar regiments and guards would also have been composed of full time professionals trained and hired under the imminent shadow of war, imprinting the serious nature of all training to each and every man enlisted.


The general performance in and around Pomerania 1805-07 seems to have been good, but eventually inadequate against considerable French numerical superiority. The French morale and quality would most likely have peaked during this period. After defeating the combined Austrian-Russian army at Austerlitz in 1805, Prussia at Jena in 1806 and Russia at Friedland in 1807 – the French must have felt almost invincible.


The performance of the troops in Finland 1808-09 would generally also have been good. The Swedish high command seemed to have left a bit to be desired, though, often overestimating the strength of the the opposing Russians, why more often than not retreats were ordered, despite the wish by local commanders and their men to stand and fight. Constant retreats, leaving the homeland in enemy hands, would also have had a dampening effect on morale – perhaps especially among some of the more initiated officer class and higher nobility in Finland, which would naturally come to hesitate Sweden’s ability to win the war and in the ability and leadership of the Swedish monarch – Gustavus ‘the mad’. So, although the men generally fought well and bravely, many local successes were spoiled by centrally ordered retreats. The dethronement of Gustav IV Adolf in 1809 was a direct result of the ‘debacle’ of the Russo-Swedish war, which then ended the same year. Sweden had to cede Finland, which then became an independent Grand Duchy under the Russian Tsar.


From 1810 to the end of the Napoleonic wars the Swedish cavalry would gradually have peaked and been of above average quality - at the end of period perhaps even considerably so. This would have had several reasons.


One reason was the new Swedish leadership. In 1810 Sweden had elected the former French Marshal Bernadotte as their new Crown Prince. This meant a considerable boost in Swedish army morale – one was now led by one of Napoleon’s famous marshals! It is also true that Bernadotte also devoted special interest, time and resources to strengthen, train and re-equip the army. Evidence of the changes taking place is noted in foreign reports being favourably impressed – like the Austrian Major-General Steigentesch that wrote in August 1814 “The Swedish army is in a condition not known since the days of Charles XII. It would not be possible to find finer or more well drilled troops, nor a higher morale amongst the officers. The merits of the crown prince are in this respect obvious, and each and all who knew the Swedish troops some years ago will admit that he has created a new army, quite unlike the previous one. Accordingly, he enjoys to an extraordinary degree the troops’ confidence and love”. In short the new leadership meant a vital vitamin-injection to the Swedish army as a whole. Although many in Sweden had chosen Bernadotte as their candidate for crown prince, with the intent to make peace with Napoleon and hopes of retaking Finland (which did not materialise, as Bernadotte eventually broke with his former master, instead making friends with the Tsar), it became increasingly clear to everyone that the tide was turning against Napoleon. Bernadotte’s stand against Napoleon during this change of fortune meant that the army would feel part of a ‘winning team’ marching forward both literally and metaphorically speaking. This would have been quite contrary to the feeling after constantly ordered retreats and the eventual defeat in the Russo-Swedish war, where some higher ranking officers and nobles would have had very limited faith in the ‘mad’ king Gustav IV Adolf. In fairness, though, it should be said that Gustav IV Adolf was not really ‘mad’, but clearly not up to the extremely stressful job of absolute monarch during these trying times.


There is also another and quite simple fact behind the Swedish cavalry’s comparatively good quality at this time. The Swedish forces had fared rather well compared to many other nations - and especially its French and pro-French enemies during the prolonged years of conflict, which would have drained many – if not most – European nations considerably of both good men and mounts. This is especially true after Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Russia and the loss of the Grande Armee in 1812. Although Sweden saw its share of fighting in and around Swedish Pomerania in 1805-07 and especially in Finland 1808-09, Sweden would have escaped the horrendous casualties suffered on the huge and blood-drenched battlefields of Central Europe and Russia. During the Pomeranian War Sweden suffered a total loss of some 6.000, a figure including prisoners that eventually would have returned to the ranks. Of some 20.000 - mainly Finnish casualties - of the Russo-Swedish war, many would have come from the hastily formed, poorly equipped, fed and led militia, which – however horrible from a human perspective – was regarded as of very limited military value. Although, many of the troops and horses had fared ill, most would have survived, and the men able to remount to fight with more experience another day. Some of the troops from the disbanded Finnish regiments after 1809 would also have been transferred and incorporated into their Swedish counterparts. Moreover – not all Swedish regiments took part in Russo-Swedish war - far from it. Sweden was also threatened from the west from a Danish-Norwegian invasion with planned support from a strong French-Spanish contingent. This meant that many Swedish regiments had been kept in the south and west of Sweden, completely unscathed, but constantly drilled and trained under the very real threat of invasion.


Thus, at the time of 1813-1814, Sweden would have had troops and mounts of comparatively high quality – not having suffered as bad as other nations - many with experience from Pomerania, Finland and occasional border-skirmishes along the Swedish Norwegian border. The troops would have been well trained, at least decently led and with high morale - and during the German campaign often also re-equipped with new uniforms and accoutrements.


What can be said from the performance in the field at this time? It is true that Bernadotte kept most of the Swedish contingent of the Army of the North away from the major battles. The reasons for this being several – to limit Swedish losses, not to lose popularity in Sweden, to limit French losses from Swedish weapons, not to lose potential popularity in France (as Bernadotte had hopes to replace Napoleon on the French throne) and last but not least to keep the Swedish army intact for his planned campaign against Denmark – to force the Danes into ceding Norway to Sweden, which would then compensate Sweden for its loss of Finland.


Still, when Swedish troops were involved they performed well – if not very well. The Swedish cavalry mainly took part in reconnaissance and very minor skirmishing were individual Swedish troopers nevertheless appears to have come out on top. At the battle of Dennewitz in September 6th 1813 the Swedish cavalry was ready to charge, but was held back by Bernadotte, as he thought the French would retreat anyway – which they also did. After the battle of Leipzig in October 1813, the Swedish turned north against Denmark, then still allied with Napoleon. The Swedish cavalry officers were frustrated, as it seemed they would ‘miss out’ on the war. Thus, at Bornhøved (in Swedish sources often written Bornhöft) in Holstein south of Kiel, a contingent of Danish on the way back to Denmark, had encamped in a fortified position. On December 7th 1814, although against given orders, the Swedish cavalry under the cavalry commander Skjöldebrand charged, successfully driving the Danish back. The success can probably and partly be explained by the Danish being taken by surprise, not expecting the Swedes to ever dare an attack against their strong and very advantageous position, but also as they had little reason to stand and fight, as they were pulling back in any case. Although a charge with cavalry against a fortified position is not the most advisable thing to do, the efficiency and success of the attack against theoretically poor odds still gives evidence of the high spirits and quality of the Swedish cavalry during this stage in the war. About the Mörner’s Hussars for example, it is recorded that when the bugle sounded the recall, they immediately broke off and in jiffy were standing in straight lines, just as if back on the parade ground, ready for new orders. What cavalry commander could ask for more?



Principal source used: Between the Imperial Eagles – Sweden’s Armed Forces during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1780-1820 (ISBN 91-86478-230)



Some Cavalry Regimental History


A brief history of three Swedish cavalry regiments during the Napoleonic Wars


Livgardet till häst – the Horse Guards.


This unit was formed in Finland 1770, based at the town of Borgå/Porvoo close to Helsinki, to guard the river of Kymmene and the Swedish-Russian border. The unit was composed of three companies (later called squadrons) of 50 men each. When inspected in 1771 the commander found “that all dragoons were made up of Swedish or Finnish, all happy, well spirited and particularly beautiful people”.


In the bloodless coup d’état by Gustavus III in 1772, the unit’s commander Jakob Magnus Sprengtporten took a force of some 1.000 men and sailed to Stockholm from Finland to support the king. Due to poor winds, however, he arrived only some two weeks after the successful coup d’état. The king was nevertheless very grateful and made 100 men of the unit into the King’s personal bodyguard to reside in the capital of Stockholm. Sprengtporten was also made the commander of both the Foot and Cavalry Guards. The new guard unit was given the name Lätta dragonerna av livgardet – the Light Dragoons of the Lifeguard. History tells that the old guard regiments – the Life Regiment and the Foot Guards - found it hard to regard the dragoons as their equals with resulting petty disputes between officers and even coming to blows between the troopers.


In 1777 the two parts of the regiment - in Sweden and Finland respectively - were amalgamated to the Stockholm area, counting four squadrons of 200 men total.


In 1793 the name was changed to Livhusarregementet – the Life Hussar Regiment. At the end of the 1790s the unit was reduced to two squadrons and the name changed to Lätta livdragonregementet – the Light Life Dragoon Regiment. 


About 90 troopers from the regiment were present during the campaign in and around Swedish Pomerania (North Germany) against the French in 1805-07. The campaign was fruitless, as the troops eventually had to retire before a more numerous French foe. The commander Löwenhjelm and four troopers still got medals for bravery for a delaying action during a crossing of the river Elbe.


The regiment’s name was changed again in 1806 to Konungens lifgarde till häst – the King’s Horse Guard - or simply the Horse Guards.


The regiment also fought in the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-09. One squadron took part in a landing operation against Turko/Åbo that resulted in hard fighting that is said to have lasted for 14 hours. The total Swedish force was some 3.000 – mostly militia. The commander von Vegesack writes of the Horse Guard that they ”fought as a guard should fight; they have with the greatest manly courage endured the renewed attacks of the enemy and never fallen back a single step”. Many troopers were mentioned for their good conduct during this battle, like trooper no. 4 Lind, who had “shot nine Russians, and freed him self and five men of the militia from captivity”. The poorly trained and equipped militia was regarded as quite useless during the fighting, why the Swedish eventually decided to return to their ships. As noted from this event, much of the fighting in Finland was skirmish-like, not comprising the huge number of troops seen on the continent. Many of the cavalry would also have fought on foot, as the varied and wooded terrain of Sweden-Finland did not offer terrain ideal for large-scale cavalry charges, although the frozen waters during winter occasionally offered such space. During the landing operations, it would also have been considerably more difficult and impractical to transport and land horses of course.


Later during the summer of 1808 a new landing attempt was made to cut off the Russian supply from their bases in the south of Finland. Three reduced infantry regiments, a battery of guns and two squadrons of Horse Guard took part. The landing force was soon engaged by the Russians, but could give support to another Swedish brigade at Lappfjärd under the Swedish General von Döbeln (immortalised by the Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg). After a successful engagement the Horse Guard could pursue the fleeing Russians. Von Vegesack then joined the main army and took part in the battle of Oravais close to Vaasa in Western Finland September 14th 1808. Here some 5-6.000 Swedes-Finns faced some 6-7.000 Russians - the only major battle of the Russo-Swedish war 1808-09. At first it looked good for the Swedish-Finnish, but the battle finally ended in a Russian victory.


During the winter of 1808-09 four squadrons of the Horse Guard were stationed on the Åland Islands, between the Finnish and Swedish mainland. Here several small skirmishes took place with Russian Cossacks – often on the frozen ice between the small islands. During one of these events, a trooper named Kämpe of the Horse Guards (Kämpe meaning ‘fighter’ in Swedish – soldiers were often given these short “soldiers’ names” that were easy to remember) is recorded to have cut one Cossack in the throat and broke his lance. The Swedish defenders were eventually forced to retreat over the frozen waters from Åland to the Swedish mainland before the advance of more numerous Russians. The Horse Guards covered the retreat, and was engaged several times in small skirmishes with harassing Russian Cossacks.


In August 1809 a final Swedish push was made with a landing designed to take back the town of Umeå on the Swedish mainland. The Swedish force was composed of 7.000 men, more numerous than the defending Russians. Two squadrons of the Horse Guards were present, although fighting on foot. The Swedish command was as slow and hesitant, as the Russian commander Kamenski was eager and determined. The Swedish suffered from not having mounted cavalry as scouts and overestimated – as usual - the strength of the Russians. After some fighting the Swedish chose to retire and re-embark - the landing having been a failure. Five troopers of the horse guards nevertheless got medals for bravery.


With the peace in 1809 Finland was lost to Russia and made into a Grand Duchy under the Russian Tsar. A total of 24 medals of honour had been awarded to the men from the Horse Guard during the war.


The regiment was seriously decimated by the war - upon inspection the regiment had 95 horses present of which 34 were rejected for further service and about the rest they were said to be “very poor, due to serious fatigue, cold and - for the horse’s maintenance during the end of the campaign - a far too inadequate supply of food”.


During the campaigns of 1813-14 the Horse Guard mainly served as escort and bodyguard to the newly elected Crown Prince of Sweden, the former French Marshal Bernadotte, now commander of the allied Army of the North. The Horse Guard also functioned as a recruiting base for dispatch riders. In Germany the regiment also got new beautiful light blue hussar uniforms made up by the fine tailors of Berlin.


After the short war with Norway in 1814 the Horse Guards were stationed in Fredrikshald, Norway, for some two months together with other Swedish troops to guarantee the peace treaty, in which Norway accepted Bernadotte as their king, joining a union with Sweden that lasted until 1905.


Source: K1 1928-2000 part 1 (ISBN 91-631-0434-2) in Swedish – “K1” stands for Cavalry (Kavalleri) Regiment No. 1.


Livregementsbrigadens kyrassiärkår – The Cuirassier Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade


The origins of this regiment dates back to 1667 when the Mounted Life Regiment was formed from the cavalry regiment of Uppland (the province in Sweden where both the capital of Stockholm and the town of Uppsala is situated) – a regiment that in turn can trace its history back to 1536.


However, the Cuirassier corps as such, was formally created in 1791 when the former Mounted Life Regiment was split into three units, the Cuirassier Corps as per above, the Light Dragoons Corps of the Life Regiment (in 1795 re-named the Hussar Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade) and the Light Infantry Battalion of the Life Regiment Brigade (in 1808 renamed the Grenadier Corps of the Life Regiment Brigade).


The Mounted Life Regiment had its recruitment area all around lake Mälaren. For the cuirassiers in particular the recruiting area became the original area of Uppland, reaching north from Stockholm to around Uppsala. The unit was present during the campaign in Germany 1813 and was part of the Swedish cavalry present at the battle of Dennewitz, September 6th 1813. The Swedish general Skjöldebrand was ready to charge but was held back by Bernadotte, who figured that the French would fall back anyway, which they did.


The Cuirassier Corps was the only Swedish unit equipped with cuirasses. They would have started the period with a single front-plate, which was later changed to a full front- and back plate. The cuirass would although have become a bit out of fashion, and it is unclear how much it was really worn. When not wearing the cuirass, the unit had a full dress uniform, very similar to the uniform of the Scanian Carabineers, but with white collar and cuffs. Furthermore, for field duty, all Swedish cavalry regiments had an undress uniform, generally made in reverse colours, which for the Cuirassier Corps meant a white jacket with dark blue collar and cuffs.


Source: K1 1928-2000 part 1 (ISBN 91-631-0434-2) in Swedish – “K1” stands for Cavalry Regiment No. 1.


Jämtlands hästjägarskvadron – The Jämtland Mounted Rifle Squadron


This unit was probably the cavalry regiment based farthest north in Europe. It had its base in the province of Jämtland around the lake Storsjön, opposite the Norwegian city of Trondheim.


The unit dates back to the 17th century. The regiment’s primary task would have been to guard the border against Norway, but also, in time of need, to defend the Swedish east coast against Russian intrusion and attempts of invasion.


In the 1770ies it was said that due to the difficult terrain the cavalry should be equipped as light dragoons and mounted on less frightened, capable and lively mounts of the country’s own breed. As Sweden had a shortage of horses it was also proposed that the regiment be converted into infantry, but this proposal fell, partly because of protests from the local population. One reason behind the strong local support for keeping the regiment as cavalry might have been that the existing system exempted most of the rural population from military draft, where any change of the existing order might have been perceived as ‘dangerous’.


According to a royal decree of 1802 it is said that the unit become Mounted Sharpshooters (mounted ‘Jägare’). As the new name of 1806 suggests - Jämtlands hästjägarskvadron (the Jämtland Mounted Rifle Squadron) – the unit was small, perhaps even as few as 100 troopers - and definitely not more than 250, which would have been the size of an ‘old’ squadron. In 1815 the name changed to Jägarkompaniet till häst (the Mounted Rifle Company). As “Company” and “squadron” was used interchangeably during a period (se the notes on organisation), it is unclear if the actual size of the unit changed, but probably not.


During the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-09, the unit’s main task was to patrol the eastern border of present day Sweden, but part of the company was also transferred to Österbotten - a Finnish province on the eastern side of the Gulf of Bothnia – taking part in the fighting. During 1809 the regiment partly acted as Sharpshooters on foot – for example when taking part in the small engagement around Hörnefors (30 km south of Umeå) on July 5th 1809.


After the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-09 the unit was disbanded, but summoned again to the colours in 1812-14 to patrol the Norwegian border and for the invasion of 1814.


Source: Umeås Blå Dragoner (ISBN 91-630-2364-4) in Swedish.