A dragoon is a soldier intended primarily to fight on foot but trained also in horse riding and cavalry combat, especially during the late 17th and early 18th centuries when dragoon regiments were established in most European armies. During the later 18th century and the Napoleonic Wars the majority of such units evolved into conventional medium and sometimes light cavalry.
The word "dragoon" is derived from the French Army designation dragon which itself was originally the name of a type of firearm (whose name means dragon) carried by French dragoons. In French and Spanish there is no distinction between the words dragoon and dragon.
The title has been retained in modern times by a number of armoured or ceremonial mounted regiments.
A further alternative explanation is that the name derives from the dragoon's primary weapon, a short Wheellock called the dragon. As explained by Sir Samuel Rush Mayrick, so named because the weapon of the first unit of dragoons raised in France had the muzzle of their weapons decorated with the head of a dragon. The practice of so naming a weapon stems from the earlier period when all gunpowder weapons had distinctive names irrespective of size such as the culverin, serpentine, falcon, falconet, etc.
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" did not come to refer to cavalry until after the Napoleonic Wars, in the 1820s. Dragoons also acquired responsibilities for scouting and piquet duty which in the French, Austrian, Prussian, and other armies was passing to hussars and other light cavalry corps. In the Imperial Russian Army due to the availability of the cossack troops the dragoons were retained in their original role for much longer.
An exception to the rule was the British Army. In order to cut the state's military budget, all Horse (cavalry) regiments were gradually demoted to the status of Dragoons from 1746 onwards--a change that placed them on a lower pay scale. When this change was complete the heavy cavalry regiments became known as either Dragoon Guards or Heavy Dragoons (depending on their precedence) while light cavalry other than the new Hussar and Lancer regiments became Light Dragoons. These Light Dragoons were trained in reconnaissance, skirmishing and other work requiring endurance in accordance with contemporary standards of light cavalry performance.
During the Napoleonic Wars, dragoons often assumed a cavalry role, though lighter than armored cuirassiers. Dragoons rode larger horses than the light cavalry and wielded straight, rather than curved swords. Emperor Napoleon often formed complete divisions out of his 20 to 30 dragoon regiments and used them as battle cavalry owing to shortage of cavalry mounts, 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 regiments) were designated as dragoons; reflecting an emphasis on dismounted action in their training and a growing acceptance of the impracticality of employing historical cavalry tactics against modern firepower.
In 1914 there were still dragoon regiments in the British, French, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Peruvian, Norwegian, 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 . 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.
This regiment is known as the "Independence Dragoons". The name was given in 1927 and refers to the fact that a detachment of dragoons escorted Portugal's Crown Prince Pedro I at the time when he declarated Brazilian independence from Portugal, on September 7, 1822.
The Independence Dragoons wear 19th century uniforms similar to those of the earlier Imperial Honor Guard. The uniform was designed by Debret, in white and red, with plumed bronze helmets. The colors and pattern were influenced by the Austrian dragoons of the period, as the Brazilian Empress Consort was also an Austrian Archduchess. The color of the plumes varies according to rank. The Independence Dragoons are armed with lances.
The regiment was established in 1808 by the Prince Regent and future king of Portugal, João VI, with the duty of protecting the Portuguese royal family, which had sought refuge in Brazil during the Napoleonic wars. However dragoons had existed in Portugal since at least the early eighteeth-century and in 1719 units of this type of cavalry were sent to Brazil, initially to escort shipments of gold and diamonds and to guard the Viceroy who resided in Rio de Janeiro (1st Cavalry Regiment - Vice-Roy Guard Squadron). Later, they were also sent to the south to serve against the Spanish during frontier clashes. After the proclamation of Brazilian independence, the title of the regiment was changed into that of the Imperial Honor Guard, with the role of protecting the Imperial Family.
At the time of the Republic proclamation in 1889, horse #6 of the Imperial Honor Guard was ridden by the officer making the declaration. This is commemorated by the custom under which the horse having this number is used only by the commander of the modern regiment.
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.
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.
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.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.