Introduction page Battles and campaigns 1450 to 1697 Army composition
main conflicts 1450-1697 Maps of Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth Army's development 1450-1697
 
 

Army Composition


Introduction

Hetman Commanders

Battle Tactics (17thC)

Army Sizes

'Cossack' Cavalry

Hussar Cavalry

 

The Polish Cossack Cavalry

Excerpt - Polish light cavalry, cossacks, during their celebrated entry into Paris in 1645 - Aquaforta by Stefano della Bella

The Cossack cavalry was the term used to describe the medium and light cavalry used to support the husars. Originally they were undoubtedly Cossack units but the name was used to cover a wide range of cavalries from all parts of the Commonwealth. In the middle of the 17th century the Cossack reference was replaced by pancerni (meaning armoured) for the medium cavalry or plain light cavalry for the unarmoured cavalry. This was to avoid confusion with the Zaporozhian Cossacks during their rebellions from 1648.

In the late 16th century the Cossack cavalry formed only a small proportion of the cavalry, around 10 percent. They were much cheaper to raise and maintain than hussars and by the second half of the 17th century were forming over 60 percent of the cavalry.

armoured cossack arms and armour 17th CenturyThe Cossack cavalry were a very flexible force, being extremely mobile and able both to provide concentrated firepower or when required to charge at the gallop. Where armoured a chain mail shirt with misurka mail helmet was worn and often shields. Arms comprised, a sabre, pistols, often bows as well as arquebus or a wheellock carbine (17th century). Short lances were also carried in some units. A common weapon, which was a particular favourite of Polish nobles was the warhammer. They had developed into three distinct types, obuch, nadziak and czekan and were noted for being rather dangerous being banned by the Sejm on three occasions except for their use "in war against the enemy of the country"

Some of the best descriptions of these troops is obtained from contemporary sources:

Starowolski wrote - "the light (and medium) cavalry is of two types, one using spears and being armoured - calling themselves Czeremisy and a second which uses arquebuses or bows or both and is armoured or unarmoured - calling themselves Cossacks.".. "Czeremisy in mail coats and shields, use long firearms or bows, sabres and spears four elbows long, which are tied to their right side and used to good effect against the enemy at close quarters. Cossacks are of two types, one dressed in cuirass or mail and helmet with two short and one long firearm and a sabre. The other Cossacks are unarmoured being dressed only in cloth and using the same weapons."

Cefal wrote - "Cossacks are lighter armoured noble cavalry. They wear mail armour, a misurka (mail helmet) on the head from which a metal net continues onto the shoulders and is fixed together under the beard. For show nobles carry bows, but in battle they use the carbine. Non-nobles, that is the retainers, are similarly dressed and equipped and only differ as with the husars that some go first and the others follow the music."

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