AskDefine | Define dragoon

Dictionary Definition

dragoon n : a member of a European military unit formerly composed of heavily armed cavalrymen


1 compel by coercion, threats, or crude means; "They sandbagged him to make dinner for everyone" [syn: sandbag, railroad]
2 subjugate by imposing troops

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. horse soldier; cavalryman, that use horses for mobility, but fight dismounted.
  2. A carrier of a dragon musket.


horse soldier


  1. To force someone into doing something; to coerce.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Dragoon is the traditional name for a soldier trained to fight on foot but who transports himself on horseback, in use especially during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Also, a member of any of several cavalry regiments in the household troops of the British army. (Oxford American Dictionary)

History and use

The name derives probably from the dragoon's primary weapon, a carbine or short musket called the dragon. Dragon carbines are said to have been named because, like the creature of myth, they "breathed fire" — a reference to the flames carbines emitted when fired. According to another theory, the name originated from the title of Dragon given to Guillaume de Gomiécourt, an 11th century French lord, by King Henry I of France, and from his son Raoul Dragon de Gomiécourt, who trained a group of soldiers to fight both from horse and foot.
The creation of dragoons, although still not bearing that name, is now generally credited to Piero Strozzi, an Italian condottiero who fought for the King of France in the early 16th century.
Dragoons were organized not in squadrons or troops like the cavalry, but in companies like the foot soldier, and their officers and non-commissioned officers bore infantry ranks. The flexibility of mounted infantry made dragoons a useful arm, especially when employed for what would now be termed "internal security work" against smugglers or civil unrest. The dragoon regiments were also cheaper to recruit and maintain than the notoriously expensive regiments of cavalry. When in the 17th century Gustav II Adolf introduced dragoons into the Swedish Army, he provided them with a sabre, an axe and a matchlock musket: many of the European armies henceforth imitated this all-purpose set of weaponry.
However, dragoons were at a disadvantage when engaged against true cavalry, and constantly sought to raise their horsemanship, armament and social status to the levels of the latter. In most European armies "Dragoon" came to refer to medium cavalry by the time of the early wars of Frederick the Great, in the 1740s. Exceptionally the 30 regiments of Russian dragoons in existence by the Seven Years' War were still trained to fight as both dismounted musketeers and cavalry capable of engaging a mounted enemy in a melee. They also retained responsibilities for scouting and piquet duty which in the Prussian, French and other armies was passing to hussars and other light corps.
The term "to dragoon" dates from the earlier mounted infantry period. Dragoons were the most efficient and economical form of cavalry for police work and counter guerrilla warfare.
From the late 18th century, some regiments started to be designated as Light Dragoons, who rode faster and lighter horses and carried lighter sabres. They were trained in reconnaissance, skirmishing and other work requiring speed. During the Napoleonic Wars, dragoons became a sort of medium cavalry, lighter than armored cuirassiers and heavier than light horse such as chasseurs or hussars. Dragoons rode larger horses than the light cavalry and wielded straight, rather than curved swords. These units were part of almost every European army, including France, Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia. Emperor Napoleon often formed complete divisions out of his 20 to 30 dragoon regiments and used them as battle cavalry, to break the enemy's main resistance. In 1809, French dragoons scored notable successes against Spanish armies at the Battle of Ocana and the Battle of Alba de Tormes. British heavy dragoons made devastating charges against French infantry at the Battle of Salamanca in 1812 and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
In the early 19th century, the British Light Dragoon regiments converted to lancers and hussars. Between 1881 and 1910 all Russian cavalry other than Cossacks and Imperial Guard units were designated as dragoons, reflecting an emphasis on dismounted action in their training. In 1914 there were still dragoon regiments in the British, French, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Peruvian, Swedish, Danish and Spanish armies. Their uniforms varied greatly, lacking the characteristic features of hussar or lancer regiments. There were occasional reminders of the mounted infantry origins of this class of soldier. Thus the dragoon regiments of the Imperial German Army wore the pickelhaube (spiked helmet) of the same design as those of the infantry and the British dragoons wore scarlet tunics (hussars and all but one of the lancer regiments wore dark blue). In other respects however dragoons had adopted the same tactics, roles and equipment as other branches of the cavalry and the distinction had become simply one of traditional titles.

Modern dragoons


The Brazilian president's honor guard is formed by a regiment of dragoons, known as the "Independence Dragoons" (formally, 1st Regiment of Cavalry of Guards), the name being a reference to the fact that a detachment of dragoons escorted Portugal's crown prince Peter at the time when he proclaimed Brazilian independence from Portugal, on September 7, 1822.
The regiment was re-established in 1808 by the Prince Regent and future king of Portugal, John VI, with the duty of protecting the Portuguese royal family, which had sought refuge in Brazil during the Napoleonic wars. However the Dragoons existed in Portugal since at least the early eighteeth-century, since in 1719 they were sent to the Brazil, initially to the mines, to control the traffic of gold and diamonds, and to protect the vice-roy who resided in Rio de Janeiro. Later they were also sent to the South to fight the Spanish in the South American frontier question.
The regiment of dragoons continued to guard the Brazilian heads of State even after the overthrow of the monarchy and the proclamation of the Republic, in 1889. The dragoons wear 19th century uniforms, in white and red, with plumed golden helmets, and are armed with lances.


There are three dragoon regiments in the Canadian Forces: The Royal Canadian Dragoons and two reserve regiments, the British Columbia Dragoons and the Saskatchewan Dragoons. The Royal Canadian Dragoons is the senior armoured regiment in the Canadian Forces. The current role of The Royal Canadian Dragoons is to provide Armour Reconnaissance support to 2 CMBG operations.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were accorded the status of a regiment of Dragoons in 1921. However this distinction was cancelled during the 1960s and the modern RCMP have no formal connection with the Canadian Armed Forces.


Founded as the Dragones de la Reina (Queen's Dragoons) in 1758 and later renamed the Dragoons of Chile in 1812, and then becoming the Carabineros de Chile in 1903. The Carabineros are the national police of Chile.


The Royal Danish Army includes amongst its historic regiments The Jutish Dragoons, which was raised in 1670.


The Finnish Dragoon squadron exists in conjunction with the Land Warfare School in Lappeenranta and continues the tradition of the former 1. Squadron of the Uusimaa Dragoon battalion.


The modern French Army retains two Dragoons regiments : the 2nd, which is a nuclear, bacteriologic and chemical protection regiment, and the 13th, which is a special-ops parachute regiment.


In the Norwegian Army, the designation of dragoons is given to armoured reconnaissance units. "Dragon" is the rank of a private cavalryman.


The Dragoon Guards of the “Field Marshal Nieto” Regiment of Cavalry, Life-Guard of the President of the Republic of Perú were the traditional Guard of the Government Palace of Perú until 1987. This regiment of dragoons was created in 1904 following the suggestion of a French military mission when undertaking the reorganization of the Peruvian Army in 1896.
The Peruvian Dragoon Guard continues to wear French style uniforms of black tunic and red breeches in the winter and white coat and red breeches in the summer, with red and white plumed bronze helmets. They are armed with lances, sabres and fusils.
At 13:00 hours every day the main esplanade in front of the Government Palace of Perú fronting Lima's Main Square serves as the stage for the changing of the guard, undertaken by the Dragoons of the Presidential Guard.


In the Swedish Army, dragoons are the Military Police and Military Police Rangers. They form the Dragoons Battalion of the Life Guards. The Dragoons Battalion have roots that go back as far as 1523, making it one of the world's oldest military units still in service. "Livdragon" is the rank of a private cavalryman. The Swedish Army Dragoons are one of few units that still use horses. Horses are being used for ceremonial purposes only, most often when the dragoons take part at the change of the guards at The Royal Castle.


In the Swiss Army, mounted dragoons existed until the early 1970s, when they were converted into Armoured Grenadiers units. The "Dragoner" had to prove he was able to keep a horse at home before entering the army. At the end of basic training they had to buy a horse at a reduced price from the army and to take it home together with equipment, uniform and weapon. In the "yearly repetition course" the dragoons served with their horses, often riding from home to the meeting point.
The abolition of the dragoon units, believed to be the last non-ceremonial horse cavalry in Europe, was a contentious issue in Switzerland. On 5 December 1972 the Swiss Conseil national approved the measure by 91 votes, against 71 for retention.

United Kingdom

In the present-day British Army, one regiment is designated The Light Dragoons and three as Dragoon Guards. The latter comprise The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, The Royal Dragoon Guards and the 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards. The designation "Dragoon Guards" does not indicate the status of Household Troops but is a distinction awarded to former "Regiments of Horse" when these were converted to Dragoons in 1746.
In the Territorial Army, one of the five squadrons of the Royal Yeomanry, W (Westminster Dragoons) Squadron, also bears the title of a former dragoon regiment.

United States

American Revolutionary War

During the American Revolutionary War, certain factors limited creation and deployment of dragoon units in Continental and local militia Patriot forces. General George Washington and his staff had little experience with dragoons and cavalry in warfare and did not understand or appreciate how to use them effectively. American geography was arguably unsuited to mounted warfare, or at least different from the typical European battlefield. Some officers with egalitarian ideals may have been prejudiced by the elite nature of mounted troops, and their cost and maintenance requirements were obstacles given the empty coffers of rebel treasuries. Washington himself, however, provided the impetus to create dragoon units in the Continental army.
The British abandoned Boston in March, 1776, and General Washington, while pursuing them to New York, incorporated some militia cavalry troops from New York and Connecticut into his operations, but used them only as screening forces, where they were useless to deter the crushing defeats on Long Island and the subsequent retreat through New York.
Washington saw the intimidating effect of the small force of British 17th Light Dragoons that panicked his militia infantry at White Plains, and he appreciated the ability of the 5th Regiment of Connecticut Light Horse Militia under Major Elisha Sheldon to gather intelligence during the subsequent retreat of Continental forces into New Jersey. He asked the Continental Congress for a light cavalry force in the Continental army, and in late 1776 Congress authorized Washington to establish a mounted force of 3000 men, although the total number of available troopers probably never exceeded several hundred. In December, 1776, Congress converted Elisha Sheldon's militia regiment into the Regiment of Light Dragoons. In the Spring of 1777, Washington formed four dragoon regiments from existing units and newly recruited horsemen as part of the Continental Line. The 1st Continental Light Dragoon Regiment consisted of the Virginians under Major Theodorick Bland that Virginia transferred to the Continental army at the request of Congress, some of which had earlier been serving near Philadelphia. The 2nd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment, commanded by Col. Elisha Sheldon, consisted mostly of Connecticut men who had joined his cavalry. The 3rd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment formed under the command of Col. George Baylor in Morristown, New Jersey, and consisted mostly of troopers from Virginia and Maryland. The 4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment organized under Col. Stephen Moylan in Philadelphia and Baltimore, and consisted of horsemen from several rebel colonies.
Many problems faced the dragoon regiments, including the inability of recruiting to bring the units to authorized strength, shortage of suitable cavalry weapons and horses and their forage, and lack of uniformity among troopers in dress and discipline. Washington and his staff believed the proper role of dragoons was reconnaissance, not combat, but Congress appointed the Polish revolutionary and professional soldier Count Casimir Pulaski to train them as an offensive strike force during winter quarters of 1777-8 at Trenton. Pulaski's efforts led to friction with the American officers, resulting in his resignation, but Congress authorized Pulaski to form his own independent corps in 1778, following the model of the first partisan corp assembled by the Saxon baron, Major Nicholas Detrich, in 1776. Pulaski's Legion consisted of dragoons, riflemen, grenadiers, and infantry. Another independent corps of dragoons joined Pulaski's in the Continental Line during 1778 when a former captain in Bland's Horse, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, formed Lee's Corps of Partisan Light Dragoons, which specialized in raiding British supply lines. Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, a French marquis, raised a third corps of infantry in Boston, called the Free and Independent Chasseurs, which later added a troop of dragoons.
In 1779, Washington ordered the 2nd and 4th Dragoons equipped temporarily as infantry, and deployed the 1st and 3rd Dragoon Regiments and Pulaski's corps to the South to join local militia cavalry and to oppose the new British strategy for controlling that area. Battle engagements in South Carolina largely rendered the 1st and 3rd Regiments ineffective during 1780, and the remnants tried to regroup and reconstitute in Virginia and North Carolina. In August, 1780, Tuffin's Legion was with General Gates at the disastrous Battle of Camden.
Washington decided by January, 1781, to fix the many problems of the dragoons by reconfiguring them as Legionary Corps, in which mounted dragoons were mixed with dismounted dragoons armed as infantry, an organization that persisted until war's end.
The most important engagement of the war for American dragoons during the Revolution was the Battle of Cowpens in January, 1781. Southern theater commander General Nathanael Greene reorganized part of Lee's Legion and elements of the shattered 1st and 3rd dragoons in Charlotte and they joined the force commanded by General Daniel Morgan at Cowpens, charged the advancing British lines at a calculated moment, broke their ranks, and secured a crucial victory. Later, the 3rd Legionary Corps participated in Greene's maneuvers across North Carolina and fought Cornwallis's army well at Guilford Courthouse.
American dragoons, both Continental and militia, participated in many battles, large and small, from their inception until the withdrawal of British forces. They engaged in battles as diverse as Saratoga and Yorktown, but despite inspired cavalry officers such as Sheldon, Pulaski, Lee, Armand Tuffin, Col. Francis Marion (The Swamp Fox), Col. William Washington, and others, the dragoons of the Revolution were unable to bring a sudden, terrifying, and decisive violence to the extended battlefield that mounted units of the United States Army (and of the rebel armies of the Confederate States) would later realize. The last Revolutionary dragoons were mustered out by November, 1783, and their formations disbanded.

Early Federal Period and War of 1812

The United States formed its first dragoon unit under the Congressional act of March 5, 1792, as a squadron of four troops commanded by Major Michael Rudolph, later reduced in 1796 to two troops commanded by Major William Winston. In 1798, Congress authorized six new troops which, with the two previously constituted troops, formed a Regiment of Light Dragoons commanded by Lt. Col. Jonathan Watts, but this unit was reduced to two troops in 1800 and disbanded altogether in 1802 during a wave of Jeffersonian optimism and frugality. The Congressional act of April 12, 1808, authorized a Regiment of Light Dragoons consisting of eight troops, commanded by Colonels Wade Hampton and later Leonard Covington and Jacint Laval, and the act of January 11, 1812, authorized another Regiment of Light Dragoons, commanded by Colonel James Burn, respectively known afterwards as the First and Second United States Dragoons. The Congressional act of March 30, 1814, combined these two regiments, which could not meet their authorized strength, into one Regiment of Light Dragoons, which was disbanded by the act of March 3, 1815, and its officers and men retained were folded into the Corps of Artillery by June 15, 1815, when all others were discharged. Elements of these Regiments fought Indian, Canadian, and British forces during the War of 1812, playing crucial roles in the Mississinewa River campaign and battles such as Stony Creek and Lundy's Lane.

Westward expansion and the Indian Wars

Westward expansion and the Indian Wars revived the functional importance of dragoons as an ideal combat force, and the Congressional act of March 2, 1833, constituted the Regiment of Dragoons in March 1833. This unit was renamed the First Regiment of Dragoons when the second regiment was formed in 1836. Known as the Black Hawks, the First Dragoons served in the Black Hawk Wars and the Mexican War, where they helped decide the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Under the title 1st United States Cavalry it fought in virtually every campaign in the east during the American Civil War. Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War the U.S. dragoon regiments were redesignated as "Cavalry", losing their previous distinctions. The change was an unpopular one and the former dragoons retained their orange braided blue jackets until they wore out and had to be replaced with cavalry yellow.

Recent and Contemporary Development of Dragoons in the U.S. Army

The 1st and 2nd Battalion, 48th Infantry were mechanized infantry units assigned to 3d Armored Division from 1963 to 1992. Along with the 1st Battalion, 33d Armor, they comprised the maneuver elements of the Division's 2d Brigade, stationed Coleman Kaserne, in the city of Gelnhausen, Federal Republic of Germany. The Battalions served as part of NATO forces guarding the Inner-German Border against the Warsaw Pact, and later with the 3rd Armored Division in Desert Storm. The unit crest of the 48th Infantry designated the unit as Dragoons. They are descended from National Guard units which trained for the First World War, and Armored Rifle Battalions which served with the US 7th Armored Division during WWII. The 48th Armored Rifle Battalion, along with 1st Battalion, 40th Armor, in particular fought a tough battle in Vielsalm, Belgium, holding off the German V Panzer Corps for three days at the crossing of the Salm river, during the German Ardennes Offensive (aka Battle of the Bulge).
The 1st Dragoons was reformed in the Vietnam era as 1st Squadron, 1st U.S. Cavalry, and continues to this day in the Iraqi War as the oldest cavalry unit, as well as the most decorated unit, in the US Army. Today's modern 1-1 Cavalry is a scout/attack unit, equipped with M1A1 Abrams tanks and M3 Bradley CFVs.
Another modern United States Army unit informally known as the 2nd Dragoons is the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker). This unit was originally organized as the Second Dragoon Regiment in 1836 until it was renamed the Second Cavalry Regiment in 1860, morphing into the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment in the 1960s. The regiment is currently equipped with the Stryker family of wheeled fighting vehicles.



  • History of the United States Cavalry: From the Formation of the Federal Government to the 1st of June 1863, ...
  • Record of service of Connecticut men in the I. War of the Revolution, II. War of 1812, III. Mexican War
  • Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903
  • Cavalry Regiments in the U.S. Army
  • Rothenburg, Gunther E. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-253-31076-8
dragoon in Bulgarian: Драгуни
dragoon in Czech: Dragoun
dragoon in Danish: Dragon
dragoon in German: Dragoner
dragoon in Spanish: Dragón (militar)
dragoon in French: Dragon (militaire)
dragoon in Ido: Dragono
dragoon in Italian: Dragone
dragoon in Hebrew: דרגון
dragoon in Lithuanian: Dragūnai
dragoon in Dutch: Dragonder
dragoon in Japanese: 竜騎兵
dragoon in Norwegian: Dragon
dragoon in Polish: Dragoni (wojsko)
dragoon in Portuguese: Dragão (militar)
dragoon in Romanian: Dragon (cavalerie)
dragoon in Russian: Драгун
dragoon in Slovak: Dragún (vojak)
dragoon in Slovenian: Dragonci
dragoon in Finnish: Rakuuna (sotilas)
dragoon in Swedish: Dragon (soldat)
dragoon in Chinese: 龍騎兵

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

blackjack, bludgeon, bluster, bluster out of, browbeat, bulldoze, bully, bullyrag, cavalryman, coerce, cossack, cow, cuirassier, demoralize, harass, heavy dragoon, hector, hijack, huff, hussar, intimidate, lance, lancer, ruffle, shanghai, spahi, steamroller, strong-arm, systematically terrorize, terrorize, threaten, trooper, uhlan, use violence
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