How effective would bayonets alone be at stopping a cavalry charge?

IMO, if the infantry is out of ammunition, and thus visibly not shooting, why would the Calvary charge their square? Instead, Calvary dismounts, and using their carbines shoots up the square from a safe distance.
Or points whatever personal firearms or horse artillery is with them at the infantry and demands surrender which is what the French did at Dresden and ended up capturing 5000 men.

Basically any possible combination of circumstances and outcomes can be found in OTL Coalition Wars. Feel free to pick the one your story needs most
 
IMO, if the infantry is out of ammunition, and thus visibly not shooting, why would the Calvary charge their square? Instead, Calvary dismounts, and using their carbines shoots up the square from a safe distance.
Depends on the situation. If the enemy could bring up reinforcements, it might be better to annihilate the enemy now at the risk of a few empty saddles rather than pick away at them for hours and risk the whole regiment.
 
A small correction: Muskets were up to five feet long, plus any bayonet.
Not necessarily a match for lancers, with or without horse-pistols, but still dangerous to cavalry.
How the opposing forces are handled makes all the difference...
 
Here is a historical example of just that, on a large scale. Pretty much what you asked for to the letter. The infantry gets slaughtered. Repeatedly - in squares and out of them, under canister fire and simply by cavalry action, Guard or raw recruit. On the other hand the combination of such heavy advantage in cavalry like the Allies had, AND the really heavy rain, seems like a rare scenario.
Interesting example, thanks for that. Though going by the Wikipedia summary, it looks like the Allied advantage in artillery was as important as their advantage in cavalry, so without this maybe the French would have done better.

Come to think of it, Roman infantry were able to stop cavalry with their pila, so it looks like a relatively short spear (or spear-like weapon) can be effective against cavalry... Though the Romans also had big shields to defend against enemy lances, of course.
 
Interesting example, thanks for that. Though going by the Wikipedia summary, it looks like the Allied advantage in artillery was as important as their advantage in cavalry, so without this maybe the French would have done better.
The Allies mostly had horse artillery, smaller lighter guns. Most French artillery was regular field pieces (most of the Allied casualties were caused by the Young Guard's 12-pounders). And in any case the guns moved around a very mobile battlefield through the day. I just cannot really think of a better example that hits all of your criteria.

Come to think of it, Roman infantry were able to stop cavalry with their pila, so it looks like a relatively short spear (or spear-like weapon) can be effective against cavalry... Though the Romans also had big shields to defend against enemy lances, of course.
I don't know how well you can compare any of that. Napoleonic-era cavalry was conscripted and trained quickly and en masse, deployed en masse, and thrown at problems en masse, with nothing but their sabres and snazzy uniforms. It was expected to take massive casualties, and did, but as long as it caused bigger ones in return, it was worth it.

Ancient cavalry was mostly rich people with actual riding skills doing sensible things including attempting to stay alive. Biomechanically, though, a pilum's not the worst comparison. It's also an overly-heavy short spear.
 
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I don't know how well you can compare any of that. Napoleonic-era cavalry was conscripted and trained quickly and en masse, deployed en masse, and thrown at problems en masse, with nothing but their sabres and snazzy uniforms. It was expected to take massive casualties, and did, but as long as it caused bigger ones in return, it was worth it.

Ancient cavalry was mostly rich people with actual riding skills doing sensible things including attempting to stay alive. Biomechanically, though, a pilum's not the worst comparison. It's also an overly-heavy short spear.
"I'm totally more expendable and willing to die than that aristocrat", was hardly ever a thought that went through the average conscript's mind. Cavalry could and did break infantry squares under certain circumstances but the key to it was convincing the horses that those pointy things were going to move aside before they got there or getting your enemy to kill them before they could change their mind.

The battle of Garcia Hernandez provides an example of both and is thus famous for the unusual feat of arms.

Essentially as long as the infantry can hold their formation they will hold. Bullets and canister will eventually kill and maim all of them but it will take longer than it would cavalry in amongst the ranks to sabre the lot of them. Lancers have the mechanical reach to be a real pain but at slow speed prodding lances can be mostly parried by muskets. In each example you would see a trial of wills between the infantry and their opponents with the odds in favour of the cavalry and especially cavalry-horse artillery force. The likelihood being some point the survivors among this forlorn square surrender unless there is a relief force coming to their aid.
 
"I'm totally more expendable and willing to die than that aristocrat", was hardly ever a thought that went through the average conscript's mind. Cavalry could and did break infantry squares under certain circumstances but the key to it was convincing the horses that those pointy things were going to move aside before they got there or getting your enemy to kill them before they could change their mind.
"Any hussar who is not dead by the age of 30 is a blackguard.” -- Antoine Lasalle
 
The Allies mostly had horse artillery, smaller lighter guns. Most French artillery was regular field pieces (most of the Allied casualties were caused by the Young Guard's 12-pounders). And in any case the guns moved around a very mobile battlefield through the day. I just cannot really think of a better example that hits all of your criteria.
I was mostly thinking of a pure cavalry vs. pure infantry engagement, although since most commanders would be smart enough not to leave their artillery behind you're probably right that Fere-Champinoise is the closest real-life example.

I don't know how well you can compare any of that. Napoleonic-era cavalry was conscripted and trained quickly and en masse, deployed en masse, and thrown at problems en masse, with nothing but their sabres and snazzy uniforms. It was expected to take massive casualties, and did, but as long as it caused bigger ones in return, it was worth it.

Ancient cavalry was mostly rich people with actual riding skills doing sensible things including attempting to stay alive.
From a general's perspective, sure, mass conscripts are expendable. From the perspective of the conscripts themselves, not so much. Historically conscript armies have generally been not very keen on suicidal charges and the like.

Biomechanically, though, a pilum's not the worst comparison. It's also an overly-heavy short spear.
Yes, and from what I've read, it seems like a row of pila used as spears was generally enough to stop an enemy cavalry charge.
 
"I'm totally more expendable and willing to die than that aristocrat", was hardly ever a thought that went through the average conscript's mind.
Yes, maybe my quip came off as disrespectful. Naturally, Napoleonic horsemen wanted to stay alive as much as anyone else, but it's a testament to the tactical and psychological training of the day that you could direct whole brigades worth of horsemen (including the aforementioned aristocrats who occupied all sorts of ranks including that of private troopers) against superior numbers into bullets and pointy things after a relatively short period of training. Ancient armies simply couldn't do that because there wasn't a terrible amount of such methodical training. Effectively directing a body of cavalry equally numerous to an infantry opponent is a huge struggle in itself.

In each example you would see a trial of wills between the infantry and their opponents with the odds in favour of the cavalry and especially cavalry-horse artillery force.
This is an important point: Napoleonic era is a period where the cavalry partially returns to their role as a sledgehammer after a century and more of being relegated to a supporting role. If you'd asked for an example of mid-18th c. cavalry breaking squares, they'd be much harder to find.
 
Say you had a Napoleonic-era regiment of infantry who'd run out of ammo or whose powder had got wet, and who therefore had to rely on just their bayonets to defend themselves against enemy cavalry. Would they be able to do so, or would muskets and bayonets be too short to adequately defend them without musket fire to back them up?
The cavalry is facing infantry in a square formation and, with them not shooting, enthusiasm of the cavalry is evaporating (and its attack slows down) as it is getting closer. There is a good chance that it'll just turn back if there is no fire at 20 - 30 yards because this means that the square is going to shoot at the point blank range (see description by Clausewitz of the French cavalry attacks on his battalion after Jena ). The few remaining enthusiasts (if any) are going to be bayoneted when they come close: Except for the uhlans/lancers the regular European cavalry has only their swords and they are shorter then a musket with a bayonet, not to mentioned that the horses, in general, do not have a sense of patriotism (as was discovered and reported to Napoleon by general Nansouty) and as a result are rather unwilling to go to their death.:mad:

Funny as it may sound, cavalry of the early XVII century, the reiters, would be much more effective: they were predominantly shooting cavalry with 4 - 6 pistols per soldier and the tactics (caracole) specially developed for the effective fire. In the early XIX, while cavalry generally had pistols and some types of a cavalry (like hussars) had carbines, they were not (AFAIK) taught any effective tactics of shooting in a formation. Exception were the dragoons but their shooting was predominantly done when they were dismounted.

Even in the mid-XIX situation was pretty much the same. The famous "thin red line" (which could be thin but also it was more numerous than the attackers) made only 2 salvos from a big distance (no enemy losses) after which the attacking Russian cavalry turned back. IIRC, this cavalry included the Cossacks who did have the muskets but did not try to fire back.
 
The cavalry is facing infantry in a square formation and, with them not shooting, enthusiasm of the cavalry is evaporating (and its attack slows down) as it is getting closer. There is a good chance that it'll just turn back if there is no fire at 20 - 30 yards because this means that the square is going to shoot at the point blank range (see description by Clausewitz of the French cavalry attacks on his battalion after Jena ). The few remaining enthusiasts (if any) are going to be bayoneted when they come close: Except for the uhlans/lancers the regular European cavalry has only their swords and they are shorter then a musket with a bayonet, not to mentioned that the horses, in general, do not have a sense of patriotism (as was discovered and reported to Napoleon by general Nansouty) and as a result are rather unwilling to go to their death.:mad:
A highly plausible scenario if the cavalry force doesn't know the opponent has no fire, actually. Would make for high-tension drama in fiction. :)

Obviously at Dresden and Fere-Champenoise the fact that it was raining too heavily to shoot was obvious and made the cavalry more confident.
 
There's examples of counter-charges formations with bayonets : with a disciplined enough infantry it could work (especially if it rains IIRC) and prevent cavalry to progress (but with few casualties as in the Battle of Katzbach).
But it was generally (and efficiently) countered with lancers, whom reach is greater, thrusting the ranks and allowing the rest of the cavalry to get in.
I'm not sure if this tactics (reasonable as it sounds) was frequently used. It required coordination of the various types of the cavalry units which was rather challenging task especially taking into an account that the uhlans were light cavalry which, in the big scale cavalry attacks was supposed to follow the heavy cavalry (various types of the cuirassiers). Of course, a lance 9 feet long would definitely have some advantage over a musket (which can't fire) with bayonet but then, again, you need really good cavalrymen (like the Polish uhlans) to force the horses go all the way to the square formation and the close contact may be troublesome for the cavalry.
 
Antoine-Charles-Louis, Comte de Lasalle (10 May 1775, Metz – 6 July 1809, Wagram).
Died age 34. Hmm.
I think his tragedy was promotion up the ranks. I think we can make an exception for a general :p

A small correction: Muskets were up to five feet long, plus any bayonet.
Though to put things back into perspective, a sabre on an oustretched arm has a maximum reach of 6 to 7 feet as well (the proverbial arm's reach plus the length of the blade), whereas the musket has to be held mid-length to be used effectively (losing half the nominal length but gaining the length of the leading arm). The margin for error with this so-called spear is absolutely tiny.
 
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I take it back, one can not ever underestimate how dim cavalry officers were...
(Note that quote speaks of mounted riflemen, dragoons, penetrating the square - my comment was directed towards both sides lacking firepower)
Well, the quote was from Baron Marbot's book and, while being extremely entertaining, it is not always a 100% reliable source of information, especially when it comes to killing the big numbers of enemies and his own heroic deeds. ;)
 

longsword14

Banned
Well, the quote was from Baron Marbot's book and, while being extremely entertaining, it is not always a 100% reliable source of information, especially when it comes to killing the big numbers of enemies and his own heroic deeds. ;)
I never understood how unarmoured cavalry from the ancient era could be thought of as so decisive in fighting. A man on an unbarded horse trying the stab-stab game is going to lose to man on foot.
Maybe flank the enemy while most of the enemy's attention is fixed on fighting the infantry ?
 
Not really. The timing of the volley was essential in defeating a cavalry attack; standard procedure was for two squadrons to draw fire from two faces of the square, then the rest of the cavalry would smash into the corner. Good warhorses can pull of some incredible feats; French gendarmes once rode into a swiss pike square and out the other side, for instance.
Just out of curiosity, which battle was it?

Even at Marigniano the French gendarmes supported by artillery and landsknechts had been mostly "pushing" the Swiss formations.
 
I never understood how unarmoured cavalry from the ancient era could be thought of as so decisive in fighting. A man on an unbarded horse trying the stab-stab game is going to lose to man on foot.
Maybe flank the enemy while most of the enemy's attention is fixed on fighting the infantry ?
It greatly depended on whom they were fighting. If it was unarmored infantry or another unarmored cavalry, why not? OTOH, it does not look like the Persian experience of using unarmored cavalry (and unarmored foot archers) against the heavily armored Greecks or Macedonians was a smashing success.
 

longsword14

Banned
It greatly depended on whom they were fighting. If it was unarmored infantry or another unarmored cavalry, why not? OTOH, it does not look like the Persian experience of using unarmored cavalry (and unarmored foot archers) against the heavily armored Greecks or Macedonians was a smashing success.
Man on foot with a long spear facing a massed block should go badly for the cavalryman unless the former is blindsided.
 
Just out of curiosity, which battle was it?

Even at Marigniano the French gendarmes supported by artillery and landsknechts had been mostly "pushing" the Swiss formations.
Ceresole, repeatedly (and without effect on the pikes who took their losses, dusted off and reformed, I might add, until the French horses and gentlemen were too tired to even try again!). Dreux (infantry got wrecked, but had reverves!) At Marignano, this happened to Bayard personally in the middle of combined-arms engagement.

I think getting physically and psychologically tired is more of a risk for cavalry and the horses in particular. If they can't do it in three or four attempts they're probably done and going home. It's a much bigger problem for 16th c. cavalry who don't have permanent regiments brigaded with other regiments who can replace them than it was at Friedland or Fere-Champenoise.
 
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