Musing on Unmounted Cavalrymen in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

I was just reading Michael Fredholm von Essen’s latest book on the Swedish army of the Thirty Years War (Von Essen, 2000), and it seems the Swedes sometimes had unmounted cavalrymen. Not dismounted, unmounted, i.e. they were horsemen without horses. Naturally I started pondering how to simulate these men in Tilly’s Very Bad Day.

Torstensson’s unmounted cavalrymen

In 1641, when Lennart Torstensson was promoted Field Marshal and become commander-in-chief of the Swedish forces in Germany, he brought reinforcements with him from Sweden (Von Essen, 2000). The replacements included “3,000 horse, although mostly without horse, and 5,000 foot” (p. 87). In April 1642 Torstensson invaded Saxony with 5,000 horse, 3,000 unmounted cavalrymen, and 7,000 foot. After receiving reinforcements he had 7,000 horse, 3,000 unmounted cavalrymen, and 10,000 foot in May. He had this army when he defeated a Saxon army under Francis Albert of Saxe-Lauenburg at Schwednitz in Silesia. By Second Breitenfeld (2 November 1642) all the cavalrymen had mounts.

Unmounted cavalrymen in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

The Swedes had unmounted cavalrymen at at least one field battle. If nothing else I need a scenario special rule to use for Second Breitenfeld. What happens in Tilly’s Very Bad Day when Horse lack the horses?

Swedish cavalrymen had a sword and pistols. Generally they wore little or no metal armour and by 1642, a buff coat would be considered being well armoured. Tilly’s Very Bad Day already has a troop type for men on foot with firearms; it is called Shot. The the cavalrymen only had pistols and they were not trained to fight to maximise their firepower when fighting on foot. So I’m inclined to penalise the unmounted cavalry men compared to normal Shot using muskets.

On balance, I think count ummounted cavalrymen as Shot but Range = 2 TUM. All other characteristics of Shot apply: unit size as Shot (1-2,000 men per unit), starting resolve (4), movement (3 TUM), shooting to hit (6), and cover in difficult (-1d6).

Unmounted cavalrymen was not a common occurence in open field battles so I think this is merely a scenario specific rule. I am not inclined to include it in a future version of the main rules.

Slight detour on dates

Okay, a slight detour. Von Essen gives the date of Second Breitenfeld as 2 November 1642 but Wikipedia: Battle of Breitenfeld (1642) says 23 October 1642. It appears Von Essen is giving the modern/Catholic Gregorian date and Wikipedia is giving the same date using the older/Protestant Julian calendar. Seems a bit odd of Wikipedia to use an dating system that is no longer used.


Von Essen, M. F. (2000). The Lion from the North – The Swedish Army during the Thirty Years War: Volume 2, 1632-1648 [Century of the Soldier 1618-1721 No. 59]. Helion & Company.

Wikipedia: Battle of Breitenfeld (1642)

7 thoughts on “Musing on Unmounted Cavalrymen in Tilly’s Very Bad Day”

    • Yeah, I agree. The question is how much less effective?

      The possible variables are
      – Melee to hit. Shot are 6 to hit, which is the worst possible. So I figure these guys are also 6 to hit.
      – Shooting to hit. Everybody is 6 to hit, so nothing to do here.
      – Shooting range. Horse are 2 TUM. Shot are 4 TUM. Given these guys are equipped like Horse, I’ve gone for 2 TUM.
      – Resolve. Horse are 3 but for 500-1000. Shot are 4 for 1-2,000 men. I figured these guys, as foot, are 1-2,000 men per unit. And like other foot give them 4 Resolve. I guess it could be 3 on the assumption they don’t like fighting on foot.

      • I would personally give them 4 TUM range. For three reasons:

        1) Effective range of pistol vs musket. I am not sure, if pistol necessarily had shorter effective range than musket, given both were fired from standing position. The muskets were effective up to some 100, 150 meters (from what I have read), which is already quite low compared to longbows for example, and I’m not sure, if pistol would have even shorter range. Did they use less powder? Had different caliber? I’m not expert on this.

        2) Combat tactics. I believed that range difference for Horse and Shot in Tilly’s Very Bad Day was mainly due to way they used their firearms – infantry firing salvoes, while cavalry used caracole, which meant they had to get closer to hit something, while shooting from saddle. Unmounted cavalrymen would have easier aim and reload, shooting somewhat like infantry, although not trained for this, so the efficiency would be much lower.

        3) Gameplay. I believe Shot with just 2 TUM range would be quite useless… It would be much harder to actually get to firing range. And given that Shot is not very good in close combat, they would probably die soon afterwards…

        In conclusion, I would give unmounted cavalrymen 4 TUM range, but make them inferior Shot. It would reduce their resolve (and thus shooting efficiency) and also make them rout easier – I believe horsemen without horses wouldn’t hold their line for very long… It would also make their movement bit more difficult, as they are were not trained to march in formation and move effectively on foot, so I believe it would generally make sense.

        • 1. As I understand it, pistols were more or less only accurate when fired at point blank range. I’ve read about men having to put their pistol barrel physically on the enemy to ensure they hit them (although this probably only happened in cavalry combat). So much, much shorter range than muskets. Pistol calibers were also smaller than muskets.

          2. Actually the range difference in Tilly’s Very Bad Day is because the effective ranges were so different. To be honest I’ve been quite generous with both in relative to movement; this is to make a better game. Since you mention caracole and salvo … the “Caracole” tactic, as commonly understood today, was a 16th Century phenomenon and was abandoned by the 17th Century. Most shot in the early 17th Century didn’t use salvo. The Swedish were famous for using it, but other nations trained with it as well. They didn’t use it so often in battle as it exposed the shot to cavalry charges.

          3. I tend to agree with Vincent that unmounted cavalry should be less effective than both cavalry and proper foot. So I’m okay with “quite useless”.

          4. Inferior shot would also be a good option.

      • And I also forgot to mention, that many cavalry regiments during the Thirty years war used harquebus or carbine aside pistols, which are closer to musket and would be quite useful when on foot.

        • True enough. I’d be okay with treating unmounted Harquebusiers as Shot using the normal Shot troop ratio. However, the unmounted examples I have are Swedish, so they had pistol; Gustavus had ordered them to give up their carbines.

  1. Coming rather late to this party but considering things from the psychological angle, I like to think these horsemen left on foot would be either totally demotivated, i.e. “quite useless” as you say – or spoiling for a fight, and in the unique position to get in amongst those dreaded pikes… So, useless shot, vulnerable to cavalry, but superior in mêlée if they can get close enough?


Leave a Reply