Friday, December 12, 2014

Word of the Day -- Voltigeur

The Voltigeurs were French military skirmish units created in 1804 by Emperor Napoleon I.

Voltigeurs hold their name from their originally conceived role of cavalry-transported skirmishers: the voltigeurs were intended to jump onto the croup of cavalry horses in order to advance more quickly on the battlefield. This proved unworkable and they were trained to be elite skirmishers while retaining their original name. They formed an integral part of la Grande Armée's basic building blocks, the Line and Light infantry battalions.

In 1804, each French Line (Ligne) and Light (Légère) infantry battalion was ordered to create one company of ninety of the best shots who would serve as elite skirmishers.

This company would frequently be detached from the battalion to perform specialised light infantry tasks - operating in loose formation, forming the skirmish line and screening the battalion from the enemy. The voltigeurs were skilled at sharpshooting and received specific training in marksmanship, using cover and taking the initiative.

Although the original concept of skirmishers using cavalry to transport them during battle quickly proved unworkable in any large scale, voltigeurs did on occasion ride with French dragoons to battle, as recalled by a British officer on the harrowing retreat of John Moore's army prior to the Battle of Corunna.

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