Sunday, 11 February 2018

Band of the 7th Dragoons

I've previously posted some bands which I've scratch built, but wanted to have a band inspired by this picture of the 4th Dragoons from 1813.  Only the 2nd and 7th Dragoons were at Waterloo (many more regiments were with Grouchy).  I thought that if the 4th could still have a band in 1813, why not the 7th in 1815?  Well, no doubt you will tell me that this would have been impossible, but the temptation was too much so here is my band.

Before showing it, I've done some research and two things spring to mind: first, some Dragoon bands clearly wore Grecian helmets and others bicornes.  I've gone with the bicornes.  Secondly, it's worth thinking about the instruments played by the musicians.  This is taken from Historex:

For the English speakers among us, clearly the 'Chinese Hat' is a Jingling Johnnie.  Also note the absence of a kettle drummer and the presence of a Cais Claire - this looks thoroughly uncomfortable for the horse!

Cais Claire

The trombone with an animal head seems to have been popular: is it a duck?!
Hussar band

Here is an original Serpent - it's a shame no one plays these any more in orchestras.  The issue of self-protection for bands seems to be an issue.  I suppose that if you failed to draw your sword in time you could wrap the Serpent around an unwary Prussian's head.

This Bassoon looks more familiar, but playing it at the trot must have been testing.

Finally, did the Band act as stretcher bearers, as in modern armies, or were the bandsmen also trumpeters?

The officer at the front is Franznap with a W1815 dismounted dragoon head

Jingling Johnnie, Triangle and drum



Serpents and bassoons at the back


French horn at the back


  1. Superb band - excellent! Trombones interest me - the Buccin (type of tenor trombone with a dragon's head-shaped bell) was a French development of the early 19C, and had a loud, horn-like tone but limited range of pitch. I wonder whether this indicates that the tenor trombone slide which it used had a shorter travel than the conventional trombone and was useful for mounted use - I am nervous about someone playing a full slide trombone on a moving horse - lots of scope for hitting the horse, and much blood from split embouchures! Maybe the advantage was the small size. Valve trombones would be handy, but later than this period, I think.

    Anyway - great band! Do they do requests?

  2. Dear Foy, as ever your knowledge astounds - I'd struggle to play a trombone standing on my feet, let alone on a horse with gunfire, so your logic sounds impeccable. I don't know whether they do requests, but their sculptor, Eric Bahlouli of Napoleon Miniatures did in this instance - sadly he has shut up shop and I made my bid just as he closed.

  3. Darn and dash it all, Picton, I was going to ask you how you made the instruments! Truly astonishing, as always.

  4. Dear WM, sadly my skills don't run to making instruments this fine, but I'd love to learn! The figures are made of resin so quite delicate, but on a stand they should be safe.

  5. Very nice band but some misconceptions regarding the instruments and composition of the band. Not your mistake but that of well known uniformologists such as Rousselot and Rigo (followed by manufacturers such as Historex). As a matter of fact, these "experts" are quite ignorant when it comes to the military music of the Napoleonic era, especially in terms of instruments and repertoire of the bands of the time (the latter needs not to be discussed here).

    Regarding the instruments:

    Please note that the large drum used by mounted dragoon bands was NOT a "caisse claire" but a "grosse caisse" called, in English, "bass drum" today, but "big drum", or "great drum", or "long drum", at the time.

    The term "caisse claire" actually is modern. I cannot remember to have seen it in any contemporary source. Generally speaking, the "caisse claire" was the same as an ordinary military side drum. It usually was provided with a snare. Hence the "claire", or "noisy", clang of the drum played by the company drummers whose instruments had to be effective and heard when conveying orders in the midst of the noisiest battle.

    Incidentally, the instrument called "caisse claire" by Historex isn't a "caisse claire" at all but a "caisse roulante" (also called "tambour roulant", in contemporary sources), or tenor drum. This drum could be shaped like an ordinary military side drum but usually it was elongated, mostly without a snare and with ropes less tightened than was the case with ordinary military drums. It was beaten with two sticks on the upper drumhead only, like an ordinary military drum. It was exclusively used by infantry military bands, as corroborated by contemporary written sources - both military (such as Bardin), and musicologist (such as Castil-Blaze) - and contemporary pictorial evidence. It was never used by mounted bands (it's inconceivable how modern uniformologists like Yves Martin and Vincent Bourgeot, in "Trompettes de cavalerie sous l'Empire" etc., could claim the opposite...Shame on them. Obviously, they just parrotted the errors of old "experts"...Not a a reliable work!)

    The use of the "grosse caisse" by French Napoleonic dragoons is attested by both iconographic (e.g., Grünschachner and "Sauerweid" [today attributed to "Bommer"]) and written sources (e.g., the testimony of Georges Kastner). It was also used by Hussar and Chasseur bands, BTW (attested e.g. by a contemporary drawing by Swebach-Desfontaines and the memoirs of Jacques Chevillet, trumpeter in the 8th chasseurs à cheval, respectively). The "grosse caisse" had no snares and it was beaten on both drumheads, with a thick knobbed stick on the one and a with a "broom" (as seen on the reconstruction by Benigni) or, alternatively, with a thin rod on the other (as seen e.g. with "Bommer" or Swebach). It was proportioned like a military side drum or, at times, slightly elongated, but bigger.

  6. Regarding the composition of the bands:

    Note that dragoon bands appear to have been organized like infantry bands. E.g., lieutenant Pierre Auvray of the 23rd dragoons mentions in his memoires that, in 1811, his regiment paraded with 24 trumpeters (i.e., 3 trumpeters per company, one more than stipulated in the regulations), PLUS 20 bandsmen. "Bommer" too says that, in 1813 (or so) each dragoon regiment had a band of about 20 (apparently not converted from trumpeters), like in the infantry. To judge from these statements, dragoon bands normally would have included "gagistes" (contracted musicians) and "musiciens soldats" (privates talented enough to play instruments) but not converted trumpeters. "True" cavalry, on the other hand, always included some "part-time" trumpeters in their bands, besides "musiciens soldats" and, occasionally, "gagistes".

    To conclude, I'd like to stress that the drawing by Rousselot representing the band of the 4th dragoons was made after "Bommer" (ex-"Sauerweid") but there the "Janissary" instruments (Jingling Johnny, grosse caisse, cymbals) are shown - and explicitely said to have been - BEHIND the other instruments!

    I'm also of the opinion that trombones - and trumpets - are overrepresented (2 of each would have been enough), while the French horn is under-represented (2, at least, would have been appropriate).

    Moreover, I cannot remember to have seen contemporary illustrations representing"buccins" ("dragon-headed" trombones) but, usually, trombones are of the ordinary type (as we still know them today) or "rear"-facing" trombones ("Bommer" actually shows a "rear-facing", also called "over-the-shoulder" trombone). As a matter of fact, most surviving "dragon-head" instruments (trombones, straight serpents) are dated to the post-Napoleonic era. I do not doubt that they existed before but the question is to what extent and how exactly they looked like (some contemporary illustrations show dragon-head instruments but, usually, they are of a very much simpler design and not painted...)

    One last remark. I very much regret that the sculptor, Eric Bahlouli, appears to have decided to give up. I'm absolutely convinced that this excellent set of bandsmen would have been a bestseller. Especially, if he'd offered to sell not only the set as a whole but also the musicians individually. This way, everybody would have had the opportunity to compose his own band according to desire...

  7. Clarification:

    ...."True" cavalry, on the other hand, always included some "part-time" trumpeters in their bands..."

    meaning: trumpeters acting as "part-time musicians"...


  8. Dear Anonymous, this is all very interesting and revolutionises my knowledge of the subject. If only I'd discovered you before commissioning the band! Despite their imperfections I'm glad you are impressed by Eric's efforts - the good news is that he sent me a picture of his newly sculpted Napoleon which suggests that he may have decided to stay in business.

  9. Good to hear that Eric wants to stay in business but, in my opinion, he should elaborate on the band, not on more figures of Napoleon ;-). I understand the moulds are made already, so why not make use of them?

    Overall, the composition of the band is very good. Eric rightly observed that, at the time, the woodwind section of military bands still was quite important. So, 6(?) clarinets and 2 bassons , plus 2 serpents (held correctly!) - great.

    Regarding the brass I've noticed that there appears to be a second French horn at the far right of the last row. So what I said about the lack of French horns is moot.

    Moreover (as far as I can see), Eric appears to have tried to take into account that the winds held their instruments (the longer ones) sideways, not straight ahead as they would have in the infantry, precisely in order to avoid what MSFoy alluded to above - to be hurt seriously by their moving horses.

  10. Thank you! It's good to hear that the Band for the most part passes muster. Do you have any on line sources I could look at? you have a very good knowledge of the subject.

  11. Not many illustrations online these days.

    I've never seen the Swebach hussar bandsmen, so far, and I can't find the "Bommer" dragoon bandsmen anymore. Will post them in case I should find them.

    Grünschachner's paintings (dated c. 1808) representing the passage of Davout's army corps through Waidhofen on the Ybbs in early November 1805 include both a dragoon band and an infantry band. Pictures are still online but of low resolution, unfortunately.

    The infantry band (at the bottom, centre):

    The dragoon band, in winter campaign dress (at the bottom, centre):

    Rigo tried to reconstruct the band (or part of it, rather) but Rigo cannot always be trusted and the reconstruction may not be accurate in every detail (one would have to find a detailed representation of the original in order to check). Moreover, he attributed the band wrongly to the 1st dragoons who were not with Davout at the time. Most likely, the regiment shown are the 16th dragoons. Davout himself attested its presence at Waidhofen (Correspondance du maréchal Davout):

    Related illustrations of French cavalry bands:

    A series of prints representing, among others, some dragoon musicians, including a few bandsmen, of the Consular period. Among others, a mounted drummer and a kettledrummer. Mounted drummers appear to have been used very rarely, and inofficially, and a very short time only, e.g. in the 16th dragoons, apparently just for traditional reasons. The 19th dragoons also had kettledrums (inofficially) till the end of 1807, when they were ordered to sell them together with their (infantry) drums. Note the way the carinet player is holding his instrument (away from his horses head):

    A series of prints made c. 1815-1820, i.e. during the early Restauration period, representing the bandsmen of the 7th hussars. They would have looked the same (apart from the Royal insignia, of course) and used the same instruments during the later Napoleonic period. The only questionable figure is the kettledrummer. They may have had one but this figure looks as if it had been copied straight away from a picture representing the kettledrummer of the Polish Guard Lancers ():

    The kettledrummer of the Polish lancers:

  12. PS regarding the "7th hussars":

    I found a contemporary plate representing them all together, labelled "Musique des Hussards du Nord". This unit was created in 1815 as n° 4 (regiment du Nord) of 6 new hussar regiment. Surely, they were reformed from disbanded Napoleonic hussar regiment(s) but I don't know from which. So, careful about the uniform colours (anyway, there's always a risk regarding colours with this sort of print ...)

  13. Here we are:

  14. That's really helpful, thank you very much indeed!

  15. Hi,

    Illustrations showing the "Bommer" dragoon and the Swebach hussar bandsmen are online now. Check and save now as they may vanish sooner rather than later....;-) :

  16. NB:

    The "Bommer" dragoons are copies by Edmund Wagner (see:

    The hussars are original drawings by Swebach (see the French magazine "Figurines", n° 7, 1995, p.55).

  17. A better photo of Grünschachner's picture (slightly higher resolution):

    Rigo was dead wrong, BTW, when claiming that, apart from a clarinet player and a trumpet, only a few bandsmen playing janissary (percussion) instruments can be seen. Actually, there is a) a second bandsman just behind the clarinet player (who presumably was the chef de musique), possibly playing a wind instrument as well, and b) another 5 or so bandsmen (presumably playing winds as well) can be seen on the far side of the baggage waggon in front. Overall, the band is at least 12 strong. Just count the heads (yellow helmets) and horse heads...2 in front, 5 behind them (the section including the janissary instruments), and 5 more on the far side of the waggon.

  18. It's a fascinating picture - I love the way the sorts of images give little insights into the past in a way that the high Victorian romantic artists cannot convey.