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©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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huevans01122 Oct 2017 8:01 a.m. PST

In my old "Wargaming in History" book, the author describes how the 12 company USA cavalry regt was divided into 3 battalions for attack, support and reserve functions.

Was this arrangement adhered to in actual combat? And what about very small regts that had been atritted or CSA regts which were only 10 companies or less?

In the Wilderness for example, did the smaller regts actually sub divide like this? Or did they charge "all in" and leave it to other regts in the brigade to cover and support them?

Any help or discussion appreciated.

donlowry22 Oct 2017 8:16 a.m. PST

From what I've read, the US regiments did use the 3-battalion organization, but not necessarily in the roles you list. Both US and CS cavalry apparently used the 2-company squadron as well, although it appears that some writers confused the terms squadron and company (aka troop).

Trajanus22 Oct 2017 8:58 a.m. PST

There are times when I think cavalry organization was almost made up to drive ACW buffs (as yet unborn) crazy.

Union 1862 Regulations called for Regiments of 10 Companies and then goes on to describe the maneuvers of a Brigade which is supposed to be 2 Regiments of 8 Squadrons! Mainly because it requires all Companies to be referred to as Squadrons on parade and at exercise (drill). It also uses the term Platoon not Troop.

Originally the strength of a US Regiment was 1100 men and at that size the concept of the Regiment being divided into 3 battalions, each one commanded by a Major, was supposed to be used.

The command by Major idea stuck around for some reason, maybe it was considered more important to have Colonels in the infantry – at Gettysburg the Union Cavalry had seven regiments commanded by Majors and three by Captains. Merritts Brigade didn't have a single Colonel or Lt.Colonel in it!

With the smaller Regiments following the wartime increase of all Volunteer Cavalry units came about, the Battalion idea faded and the terminology changed by the replacement of Squadrons/Companies by Troops. Perhaps this generated a surplus of Majors!

That said it was possible to use Battalions and they still crop up from time to time, later in the war, as independent commands.

The Confederacy used basically the same ideas but with a couple of sub units less.

I'm not aware that the "battalion" had any connection to tactics, that certainly has no place in the 1862 book.

attilathepun4722 Oct 2017 9:53 a.m. PST

I would imagine that the confusion reflects a state of transition in thinking. Up to the 1850's the U.S. mounted force had consisted of two dragoon regiments and the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. Then two regiments of cavalry were raised, followed by the conversion of the dragoon and rifle regiments to cavalry around the beginning of the Civil War. After the Civil War the size of the regiments was officially established at 600 men, divided into twelve companies (not troops), but the number of regiments was doubled to ten.

One would have to study both the pre- and post-war regulations to figure out exactly what changes were going on in tactical thinking.

One reason for the shrinkage of size of Union volunteer cavalry regiments had more to do with politics than tactics. Since state governors got to make the initial appointments of officers, each time a new regiment was raised they had the chance to exercise political patronage (this applied equally to all arms, of course). Thus existing regiments were allowed to shrivel in size, so they could be replaced with new ones.

huevans01122 Oct 2017 12:43 p.m. PST

Trajanus, are you implying that the battalion was not actually used as a tactical unit in actual fighting when a full regt was deployed?

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 12:49 p.m. PST

Well, I do know that the 4th US Cav had a battalion missing from its delaying action at Reed's Bridge on Sep 18th at Chickamauga. The battalion joined the regiment later in the day after the fighting was over. So they were being used as tactical units in the West up to that point.

I just read this in the OR a few weeks ago.

Trajanus22 Oct 2017 3:18 p.m. PST

huevans011,

I've long since learned to say "never" but I've not heard of it in the East (just to differentiate from Brad's comment).

Now it was possible to divide the Regiment and allocate a task to it but I've not seen it in the manner you reference in your OP. The manual doesn't seem to recognise such use.

I would love to know what the 4th US was up to in terms of splitting their strength as Brad noted but I'm not sure I would count that as a "tactical" use from what he says. Rather an allocation of a separate duty maybe?

Could be worth finding out.

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 5:38 p.m. PST

You are correct. It wasn't a tactic specifically. The battalion was detached for duty behind the lines. I think they were in Chattanooga. So its not like they split into different battalions on the field to be used as separate maneuver elements against the enemy.

Trajanus23 Oct 2017 12:38 a.m. PST

Thanks Brad.

Thought that might be the case. I wish I could recall where I've seen mention of a battalion turning up on its own recently. Like so many details that crop up in the middle of a good read if you don't question them immediately they tend to drift off!

I think it may have been in the new Rhea book when the depleted Union cavalry were covering the move to the James River. Sheridan had the bulk of the cavalry elsewhere so it may have been splitting a Regiment helped cover more ground. Which would make sense.

Just noticed I messed up my last reply. I should have said I've learned NOT to say NEVER! I hope everyone got the drift! :o)

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 1:58 a.m. PST

I just couldn't let it go… :)

Its seems it was perhaps more "tactical" than we thought.

Vol 30, Part 1, pgs. 922-923

"September 18.At 6 a. in., I sent 100 men, Fourth United States, toward Leets, and 100 from Funrth Michigan and Seventh Pennsylvania toward Ringgold. About 7 a. m. couriers arrived from both parties with the information that the enemy was advancing in force. I strengthened my pickets on the La Fayette road and moved forward with the Fourth Michigan, one battalion of the Fourth Regulars, and the section of artillery, and took position on the eastern slope of Pea Vine Ridge… My only means of crossing the creek was Reeds Bridge, a narrow, frail structure, which was planked with loose boards and fence-rails, and a bad ford abont 300 yards higher np. I masked my artillery behind some shrnbs near the ford, leaving one battalion of the Fourth Regulars to support it, and ordered the remainder of that regiment to cross the bridge, holding the Seventh Pennsylvania and Fourth Michigan in line to cover the movement."

By battalion, I think he, Minty, might also just mean the detachment, or collection of companies/squadrons he had on hand.

Trajanus23 Oct 2017 4:10 a.m. PST

Well that chimes with the kind of use I think was alluded to in the book I spoke of. I also recall the Battalion of the 'Whoever' being commanded by a Major 'Whatever'. So that also fits with approved practice. Although of course he might just have been the only Officer available.(obviously not space for that detail in a book).

Trying to make the best use of the numbers available by the use of sub units seems the key.

Here the artillery needs support but the whole of the 4th US would have been a waste, so leave a detachment. A battalion in terms of size and terminology (why call it X number of Troops/Companies?) seems appropriate. So I agree that it could refer to a collection of companies/squadrons, though it occurs to me "Squadrons" are not as often used descriptively.

I wonder if this is because of the Drill connotation I referred to. Or maybe some association with 'old school' ideas, its a bit of a Napoleonic feel after all.

None of this is helped by Officers not being able to stick to a common usage I fear! This has certainly led to historians taking what was said at the time as gospel. An honest approach but its minefield for the likes of us! :o)

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 6:44 a.m. PST

I think there is also the issue of the amateurs creating the armies and the fact that many were organized by the states, where there were several treatises and manuals used to organize the regiments. In that situation, different sub-units and terms could be expected. Only as the war progressed would there be an evolution to uniformity in organization.

donlowry23 Oct 2017 8:59 a.m. PST

As I understand it:

The US cavalry regiment was to consist of 3 battalions of 4 companies each (c. 100 men per company). The regiment was commanded by a colonel, assisted by a lt. col.; each battalion was to be commanded by a major, and was intended to be a tactical unit.

Majors in command of regiments would result from casualties to and/or detachment of higher officers (e.g. the colonel being in command of the brigade).

I've read numerous accounts of cavalry actions during which the battalions were separated, or used differently from each other -- such as 2 dismounted and 1 mounted, or vice versa.

The most confusing term, to me, is squadron -- sometimes used as synonymous with company/troop, sometimes meaning two companies/troops. For instance, you often read of regiments charging in a column of squadrons. Is that the same as a column of companies? or the equivalent of an infantry column of divisions?

Trajanus24 Oct 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

Don,

If it were only that easy!

Originally as far as the 1862 Regulations were concerned a company = a squadron.

As I said earlier, the Squadron was a name given to each Company on Parade, or at Drill. However, as the Drills also included how a Regiment was supposed to maneuver and fight everything gets called a Squadron when explaining that too.

The added problem is that each Squadron is composed of 2, 3 or 4 Platoons, depending on the size of the available Platoons after they have been Equalized. The more men the more platoons per Squadron.

Regiments move and fight, in the Regulations, by Squadron.

In line or in columns of Squadrons, all of which looks pretty Napoleonic to me. So they could have Column of Squadrons in line make an attack, or a Column of Squadrons on a double frontage too. Or the whole shebang could be in one or more lines.

It should be noted that regardless of Hollywood, or wherever, attacks or maneuvers in line, of whatever size or sub unit, were made by single rank of troopers.

The Regulations put emphasis on not committing the whole Regiment at once, with a reserve in Squadron columns behind. Although, it must be questioned how many real world units could do this, given the low numbers most of the time.

Battalions, as I said, do not get a mention.

In fact, the Field Officer compliment is shown as a Colonel, Lt Colonel and two Majors, which indicates to me that by the time of this going to print, the idea of three Majors and three Battalions had been dropped.

As discussed, the provision of both Colonels and Lt Colonels got squeaky as time past, so to my mind the Battalion idea was under pressure from events and may well have only existed in terms of necessity, regarding detachments etc where command devolved down to Captains when Majors were not available.

Ryan T24 Oct 2017 10:30 a.m. PST

When referring to different regulations bear in mind that there were different drill manuals and organizational structures in use.

Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War the standard cavalry manual was J. R. Poinsett's Cavalry Tactics. Published in 1841, this was basically a translation of the tactics used by the French. Poinsett envisioned the regiment as consisting of 5 squadrons, each of 2 companies, each of 48 men. A squadron, 96 men strong, would form in line in two ranks with a frontage of 48 files. A regiment would in turn have a strength of 480 men.

In May 1861, the new 3rd U S Cavalry was organized with 12 companies of 100 men each. Two companies would still form a squadron, but an intermediate level of command, the battalion, was also introduced. Each battalion was made up of 2 squadrons (4 companies). This organization was then extended to all Regular cavalry regiments in July of 1861.

Union volunteer cavalry regiments were allowed to retain the older 10 company (5 squadrons) organization until July 17, 1862 when all Federal cavalry was ordered to conform to the 12 company (6 squadrons) structure.

The Confederate cavalry retained the 10 company (5 squadrons) organization throughout the war

Adding to the confusion, in October of 1861 the US Army ordered the adoption of Philip St. George Cooke's Cavalry Tactics, Or, Regulations for the Instruction, Formations, and Movements of the Cavalry of the Army and Volunteers of the United States as the standard manual. In contrast to Poinsett's Tactics, Cooke advocated the use of a single rank for cavalry.

This change was then rescinded by McClellan and the cavalry was ordered back to Poinsett's manual in the early spring of 1862. For the most part, the Army of the Potomac then used the 2 rank formation.

The Army of Northern Virginia seems to also have used a 2 rank formation, based on manuals by either Poinsett, George Patten or Lucius Davis.

In contrast cavalry in the west seems to have predominately used a single rank formation. This was the case with most of the Federal cavalry, which only was forced to adopt Poinsett by Wilson just before his raid into Alabama in early 1865. One exception though, was Minty's Brigade in the Army of the Cumberland which used Poinsett from the start.

Confederate cavalry also fought in a single rank. Wheeler published a plagiarized version of Cooke which was used by his cavalry. Morgan adopted Dabney Maury's Tactics for Mounted Rifles. Forrest is also stated to have used a single rank in combat but the manual he used for training is not known.

Cavalry in the Trans-Mississippi is even more poorly documented. But in the great charge at Marais des Cygnes on October 25, 1864 Benteen's Brigade, charging in a column of regiments each in a single line, broke Marmaduke and Fagan's line. However, just to be contrary, the 4th Texas Cavalry (later the 12th Texas Cavalry) from Parson's Cavalry Brigade used Poinsett's until very late in the war.

Trajanus24 Oct 2017 12:43 p.m. PST

This change was then rescinded by McClellan and the cavalry was ordered back to Poinsett's manual in the early spring of 1862. For the most part, the Army of the Potomac then used the 2 rank formation.

Which is pretty rich considering he had required single rank in his own "Regulations and Instructions for the Field Service of the US Cavalry in Time of War" written the year before and he received a name check in Cooke's work for it.

Not to mention the work itself was actually published in 1862!

Ryan T24 Oct 2017 1:42 p.m. PST

The thinking appears to have been that a change in drill and tactical deployments in the middle of a war was not well advised.

I missed mentioning that the orders of July 17, 1862 also abolished the official use of the battalion as an intermediate level of command by the Federal cavalry.

Your observation about the cavalry organization in the ACW being designed to drive us crazy is all too true.

Trajanus25 Oct 2017 12:43 a.m. PST

I missed mentioning that the orders of July 17, 1862 also abolished the official use of the battalion as an intermediate level of command by the Federal cavalry.

Boom!

Well that's cleared that bit – nice job!

Interesting that Cooke's absenting of the battalion was supported even though the single rank was not.

I'm willing to bet some commanders treated the single rank as an option to increase their frontage on occasions, however.

Next we can follow the headgear war, another fine example of American individualism! :o)

donlowry25 Oct 2017 8:25 a.m. PST

Ryan T:

That's the type of organization I was referring to. (The May 1861 version)

Ryan T25 Oct 2017 1:18 p.m. PST

I suspect part of the reason for the battalion structure being done away with is that regimental strengths fell so far below the authorized totals. The following is a list of cavalry numbers at Gettysburg taken from Busey and Martin, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg. Most regiment's strength was the equivalent of only one battalion of a full strength unit.

1st Division – BG John Buford

1st Brigade – Col Gamble
8th Ill – 470
12th Ill – 233
3rd Ind – 313
8th NY – 580

2nd Brigade – Col Devin
6th NY – 218
9th NY – 367
17th Pa – 464
3rd WV – 59

Reserve Brigade – BG Merritt
6th Pa – 242
1st US – 362
2nd US – 407
5th US – 306
6th US – 410 (not present at Gettysburg)

2nd Division – BG David McMurtrie Gregg

1st Brigade – Col McIntosh
1st Md – 285
Purnell Legion (Md) – 66
1st Mass – 292
1st NJ – 199
1st Pa – 355

2nd Brigade – Col Huey
2nd NY – 264
4th NY – 298
6th Oh – 482
8th Pa – 391

3rd Brigade – Col Gregg
1st Me – 315
10th NY – 333
4th Pa – 258
16th Pa – 349

3rd Division – BG Judson Kilpatrick

1st Brigade – BG Farnsworth
5th NY – 420
18th Pa – 509
1st Vt – 600
1st WV – 395

2nd Brigade – BG Custer
1st Mi – 427
5th Mi – 646
6th Mi – 477
7th Mi – 383

Trajanus25 Oct 2017 2:10 p.m. PST

Well that's they way I see it.

The 3rd WV, 1st NJ and Purnell Legion added together doesn't come to one original battalion!

On the other hand, you could see the possibility of one of the Wolverines forming a "battalion" detachment of 100+ Troopers for a rush job. Actually, I seem to recall one of them at Trevillion Station supporting the attached Artillery while the rest of the Regiment fought hand to hand.

As I said regarding the actions of the 4th US, as noted by Brad. Forming a good size sub unit under a Field Officer was obviously a practical requirement from time to time, regardless of what you might have called it and the term or presence of a "Battalion" no longer being in use.

So if numbers permitted both the "Battalion" and the remainder to operate as a viable units, why not? Indeed it may well have still have been called a "battalion" for the duration.

After all, you would not have wanted to shout out "Companies E, F & G! – Guide Centre! – March!" When you could order "Battalion!" Would you?

huevans01125 Oct 2017 4:57 p.m. PST

Practically speaking, if regts were too small to be tactically sub-divided and used as internal support and reserve in a charge, did separate regts cover and support each other in a charge?

For example, if the 6th NY charged, would another regt in the same brigade (the 9th NY ?) move in support and a third regt (17 PA ?) hold back in reserve?

Trajanus26 Oct 2017 2:20 a.m. PST

Yes, absolutely.

That's what the Brigade commander got paid for. To assess the situation and allocate his units as effectively as possible. People like Hampton, Rosser and Custer were pretty good at this type of action.

Obviously there were occassions where a Regimental commander might take the decision to support upon himself, if the Brigade commander was unsighted, or somewhere else but the real task was the Brigade commanders. There were actual occassions where a Brigade Commander went looking for a reserve Regiment to find they had already joined a fight, the popularity of the Regimental CO tended to vary with the final outcome, from that point onward!

Once the real action started it was harder to control matters but generally there were opportunities to feed units into the fight with some form of thought.

Also, just because the sub units were small it didn't mean using them was out of the question. Even a Company of 50 men held back in reserve and thrown in at the right moment could tip the balance in a fight.

What tends to be a problem in wargaming terms is that few, if any, rules have the flexibity to allow this below the Regiment and if they do, it can mess with the game by giving to much power to players. Who, knowing everything that happens, can react to it as if their little commanders were all seeing and all doing supermen.

Adding some form of observation test to a roll to charge, on top of any constraints in the rules for "being in command" can be a good idea, to my mind. Or adding this to what are "Opportunity Charge" rules, which are a bugbear of mine. You know, the kind that allow a charge regardless of being "in command" or not. Just because the occassion for exercise of initative arises, it doesn't mean someone will take it!

huevans01126 Oct 2017 5:12 a.m. PST

Adding some form of observation test to a roll to charge, on top of any constraints in the rules for "being in command" can be a good idea, to my mind. Or adding this to what are "Opportunity Charge" rules, which are a bugbear of mine. You know, the kind that allow a charge regardless of being "in command" or not. Just because the occassion for exercise of initative arises, it doesn't mean someone will take it!

Thanks for an informative post.

On point, I have an old set of house rules I tinker with from time to time and never finish. One of my "gimmicks" is to assign capabilities to individual regts. This encapsulates the commander's capability and the experience of the regt within a numeric value. So a "10" regt would automatically do everything perfectly while a "6" regt would likely mis-time a charge, blunder across unsuitable terrain, wreck its own alignment and provide for no support or reserve – in other words, FUBAR the entire episode.

Of course, you could vary this up by adding in a dice roll to the regt's innate ability value. So the "6" regt might fluke a brilliant charge and a "10" regt pull off a total stinker.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 7:19 a.m. PST

There is an effort to see the ACW military operations as more uniform than they actually were across the states and between the two armies over four years of war.

For instance, the 5th Cavalry Battalion was organized during the summer of 1863 with eight companies. It served in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and took an active part in the battles of Olustee, Gainesville, Milton, and Braddock's Farm. The unit surrendered at Tallahassee on May 10, 1865. Lieutenant Colonel George W. Scott and Major William H. Milton were in command.

And then there was the 11th Cavalry Regiment was organized near Athens, Georgia, in November, 1864, by consolidating the newly formed 30th Georgia Cavalry Battalion and four companies raised under the authority of the War Department. It was reported as operating as two battalions.

I remember reading of Union cavalry in 1863 being described as operating in battalions… but I haven't found those references, so my memory may be off there.

donlowry26 Oct 2017 8:00 a.m. PST

A Confederate battalion was any unit that had failed to raise the required 10 companies to make a regiment.

donlowry26 Oct 2017 8:02 a.m. PST

I remember reading of Union cavalry in 1863 being described as operating in battalions…

Same here. My impression is that Union cavalry almost always operated in battalions. Incidentally, in Ryan's list of regiments at Gettysburg, the really small ones were not full regiments, usually just a detached squadron, the rest of their regiments being somewhere else. And some of the others were not full regiments either, having companies, squadrons, or even battalions detached (e.g. for escort duties).

Trajanus26 Oct 2017 8:46 a.m. PST

Ah ha! That explains things. Given the variation in size of Civil War units its always easy to misread. Cavalry all the more so.

Although the infantry isn't much better but at least a Regiment is a Regiment, unless its a Battalion (as in Sharpshooters) or when either arm started as part of a Legion!

Then of course you get oddities like the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg which bearly numbered a decent size Regiment and had composite units.

It's interesting that both Bill and Don recall Union Cavalry operating by battalions, both being guys who generally know what they are talking about and have read a book, or three. Makes me wonder where they get that from.

I mean that literally – not in a ‘do you know what you are talking about!' way. :o)

That's to say where did the authors they may have read get that idea from in view of Ryan's bombshell that officialdom abolished the darned things. Was the change just ignored or were all these ‘battalions' really detachments as I've suggested and the term has been repeated without comment down the years?

huevans01126 Oct 2017 10:06 a.m. PST

My impression is that Union cavalry almost always operated in battalions. Incidentally, in Ryan's list of regiments at Gettysburg, the really small ones were not full regiments, usually just a detached squadron, the rest of their regiments being somewhere else. And some of the others were not full regiments either, having companies, squadrons, or even battalions detached (e.g. for escort duties).

The very small fragments aside, the US cavalry regts aren't any smaller than veteran US infantry regts of the same period though. And infantry didn't sub divide into battalions.

Ryan T26 Oct 2017 4:45 p.m. PST

With the snow!!! rattling against the windows it was a good afternoon to be inside and do some reading. I spent some time going through Wittenberg's The Battle of Brandy Station looking for references to tactical deployments and found the account summarized below from early in the battle.

Approaching St. James Church, Buford sent a courier to the Major in command of the 5 company strong 6th Penn (Reserve Brigade, Buford's Division) with orders to "clear the woods to his front". The 6th Penn appears to have formed in line and immediately moved forward. Faced with Confederate artillery and a countercharge by rebel cavalry the Pennsylvanians faltered.

The 6th US (2nd Brigade, Buford's Division) then sent 2 squadrons forward to support the 6th Penn.

Buford had also wanted to have the 2nd US (Reserve Brigade) support the charges of the other two regiment,s but the 2nd US received conflicting orders from its Brigade commander and did not join the charge.

Here we have a charge ordered by the Divisional commander, supported by a regiment (or part of a regiment) from another brigade, and an additional supporting regiment that that did not go into action due to faulty orders.

Trajanus27 Oct 2017 1:36 a.m. PST

Well quite a bit of flexibility shown there then.

So just to check, those 2 Squadrons sent forward in support, were they referred to in that way, or were they called a battalion in the narrative?

Trajanus27 Oct 2017 6:10 a.m. PST

On July 16, at 1 p.m., the enemy attacked in force and drove in my vedettes and reserve, consisting of two squadrons of the Tenth New York Cavalry. Fortunately, however, the First Maine Cavalry had been ordered out a short time before on that road after forage, and checked the enemy's advance about 1 mile in front of my position.
Finding that the enemy was outflanking and slowly driving back Colonel Smith's command, I sent two squadrons of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, under command of Major Young, about 3 p.m., to re-enforce him.
The enemy still continuing to extend his skirmish line and to throw forward fresh troops, at 4 p.m. I sent one squadron of the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry to support the left of the line.
At 5 p.m. moved up the balance of the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry and all of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry excepting one small squadron, left in reserve to support the battery, and my entire force became engaged; and from this time until dark the fight raged without cessation, the enemy making repeated and desperate charges, endeavoring to break my center.
About 6.30 p.m. three squadrons of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry, under command of Colonel Taylor, reported to me, and were posted about 100 yards in rear of my center, in reserve. The Tenth New York Cavalry was posted on the right, on the Martinsburg road, on which the enemy made several demonstrations during the engagement, but were repulsed.

Col. J. Irvin Gregg, Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Commanding Second and Third Brigades.

OK, two points on this extract from the OR.

Firstly the degree of flexibility shown by a Brigade Commander.

Secondly the words "Squadron" or "Squadrons" are used five times, "Battalion" not once.

That sends a bit of a message I think, given that 2 Squadrons should have been a Battalion in regulations.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2017 6:46 a.m. PST

Trajanus:

I found what I was looking for. I got my impressions from Stephaen Z. Starr's three volume The Union Cavalry in the Civil War 1980

In it he says that the use of the term 'battalion' in designating cavalry units petered out as the war progressed. However, in other places he says that it actually increased in the West, and of course the term was applied to cavalry units throughout the war.

Also, throughout the books and the quotes, the terms 'company' and squadron are used. One incident in 1864 illustrates some of the kinds of non-uniform issues that could come up.

The 1st New York Cavalry's term of enlistment was up and Captain Charles Adams describes how his 'whole company' came to him to re-enlist. So, are companies also 'squadrons, or made up of more than one company?

The example you give above where the term squadrons are used does show the flexibility of the cavalry, and the uses of 1-3 squadrons are being employed. However, would the term battalion have been used if 4 squadrons had been employed together in this instance? Perhaps the term wasn't used when smaller numbers of squadrons [companies?] became the typical [more flexible] practice.

The 1st New York was then brigaded with with the newly created 1st New York Veteran Volunteer Cavalry created from the re-enlisted 33rd New York Infantry Regiment. Hard feeling ensued, particularly when
foot soldiers [Starr refers to them as 'doughboys'] were being called 'veteran' cavalry. Confusion also ensued because the two regiments received each others' mail, baggage, supplies and orders. Adams writes 'no wonder the two regiments were always at sword's points.' pp. 47-8 Volume II 1863-1865

This isn't the U.S. Army we know today, particularly when the states had control over the raising of regiments…

Starr also notes that most partisan cavalry units like Mosby's were called 'battalions.' There seems to have been battalions of regular cavalry throughout the war in most of the armies, albeit only a few here and there.

Ryan T27 Oct 2017 7:21 a.m. PST

Wittenberg does not mention the term battalion at all in this engagement.

However, I looked at Wittenberg again and realize I misread what he said. He describes in some detail the action of two of the squadrons under Lieutenants Carpenter and Stoll. I missed that in the previous sentence he states that "four squadrons of the Sixth U. S. charged in support of the gallant Lancers" (6th Penn Cav). One squadron had earlier been detached to guard the ford over the Rappahannock; thus it was the entire regiment that charged in support of the Pennsylvanians.

One of the sources Wittenberg cites is William Carter, From Yorktown to Santiago with the Sixth U. S. Cavalry (1900). This book is available online and I read through the chapters dealing with the Civil War. Throughout these chapters the author only uses the term "battalion" once (confirmed by use of the search function) and that is when he describes the original organization of the regiment as set out by the May 4, 1861 General Order No. 16, Adjutant General's Office. After that all descriptions only mention companies or squadrons. He is quite deliberate with these terms and does not use them interchangeably.

At the end of the Civil War section is also the interesting statement that "The tactical use of two-company squadrons practically disappeared after the Civil War."

One other item of note is that until 21 September 1861 only one squadron was equipped with carbines, the rest only having pistols and sabres (p. 59).

Trajanus27 Oct 2017 8:15 a.m. PST

It seems that the "correct" currency exchange of 2 Companies to the Squadron was kept too, where possible. I'm not surprised it faded after the war – the Troop thing seems to have taken hold by the time of the Plains Wars.

That said, I'm no student of the post war army – too many Cavalry movies in my past for any sense to be made there!

Ryan T27 Oct 2017 8:41 a.m. PST

It seems that I can't get anything right on the first try. It was up until 21 September 1862, not 1861, that only one squadron of the 6th U. S. Cavalry was armed with carbines.

The terminology issue must have been an issue historically as well. William Carter makes the observation that:

"The Act of July 17, 1862, changed the designation of company to troop. General Order No. 5, Headquarters of the Army, June 20th, 1873, provided that the word company should be used in official orders and communications. This designation was continued up to May, 1881, when the Secretary of War directed that the legal designation – troop – should be used instead of company." (p. 130)

As far as I can tell from reading reports in the ORs the term troop was not commonly, of at all, in use.

donlowry27 Oct 2017 8:42 a.m. PST

My initial understanding probably came -- many, many years ago -- from "Arms & Equipment of the Civil War" by Jack Coggins, but was confirmed by many sources, including primary sources.

I don't have time now, probably won't all day, but I'll rustle up some examples when I can find time.

Trajanus27 Oct 2017 11:13 a.m. PST

That would be good, might give some more insight as to how this confusion came about.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2017 8:21 p.m. PST

So, ten-twelve companies to a cavalry regiment
2 companies to a squadron
4 companies to a battalion

Units with fewer than 10 companies could be and were called 'battalions.'

All those terms were used during the war in different places with different frequency, but the general tactical organization/use moved from three battalions 5-6 to squadrons per regiment.

And while there were general orders and various 'acts' during the war dictating designations and organization, different states didn't always follow those and certainly some were never fully implemented army-wide for either the North or the South…

Is that what we can conclude?

Trajanus28 Oct 2017 8:41 a.m. PST

Seems like a reasonable summary.

Out of interest, following Don's remark, I dug out my Coggins.

Have to say I don't think he got it right. Here he is talking about 1863 on ward:

The squadron organization was dropped and battalions, usually of four troops, were formed when troops were to be detached for service

Now that appears to say Squadrons went out the window and Troops came in, which others think the case and was true in relation to the Plains Wars and those against the Apaches. Also that battalions only existed as a collective, when you needed to make them. Which, I must admit, supports my view of their role.

It also suggests that companies vanished as they were components of Squadrons.

However these passages from the OR circa 1864:

11th, regiment moved in advance of brigade at 8 a.m., by an unfrequented road, toward Trevilian Station, the Third Battalion, commanded by Captain Hastings, as advance guard.

My regiment was ordered to hold the road to Todd's Tavern, to which I sent one squadron in the woods dismounted, on the right-hand side of the road, as flankers to one squadron mounted which was in the road, after which another squadron was sent to the right to continue the line and to make connection with the left of Colonel D.'s regiment.

And then these two from 1865:

In obedience to orders received I reported with my squadron, consisting of Companies F and B, Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, to Major Abell, chief of artillery, Twenty-fourth Army Corps, at Appomattox Court-House, April 9, 1865.

The enemy advanced on us in force; the brigade of Fifth Corps broke, and the Fourth Regiment and first battalion of Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry charged the enemy; the Fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry breaking, we were compelled to fall back a short distance, and formed in the field. Dismounted and charged the enemy, driving them back; the infantry, rallying, advanced and drove them to their breast-works.

So there we have the coexistence of Squadrons and Battalions in the last two years of the war. You can also find mention of Companies right through, particularly in terms of individual offices being KIA.

To be honest, it was a real struggle to find those two mentions of Battalions. Squadrons occur over and over again as do Companies all be it most often in casualty reports.

So I would have to conclude that Squadrons, in the field at any rate, continued to the end of the war and that Battalions as a detachment, if not a permanent sub unit, were existing alongside them.

donlowry28 Oct 2017 9:08 a.m. PST

OK, thinking about where I have read about Union cavalry operating in battalions, the first example that came to mind was Grierson's raid. So I've just checked out his report in the OR (Vol. 24, Part 1). On p. 523 he mentions detaching a battalion of the 7th Ill. Cav. to destroy a large tannery and shoe factory. on the next page he mentions sending two battalions of the same regiment ahead of his main force to Newton Station. And further down that page he mentions detaching a battalion of the 6th Ill. Cav. to destroy bridges.

I'll check a few other units and periods and get back to this.

donlowry28 Oct 2017 9:16 a.m. PST

Another example:

Custer's report of his brigade's activities during the Bristoe Station campaign (Oct '63), OR Vol. 29, Part 1, on p. 390 he mentions one battalion of the 5th Mich. Cav. charging a Rebel battery. Farther down the same page, he says: "Leaving the Sixth and Seventh Michigan Cavalry to hold the force in my rear, I formed the Fifth Michigan Cavalry on my right in column of battalions; on my left I formed the first Michigan in column of squadrons."

These are just a couple of examples quickly found. I didn't have to do much searching. I'm sure I could find hundreds more if I wanted to spend the time.

Note both "battalion" and "squadron" are used simultaneously. I don't recall ever seeing companies called "troops" in the OR, but that's just an impression.

My take is that, in the Union cav., 2 companies made 1 squadron, 2 squadrons made 1 battalion, 3 battalions made 1 regiment. In the CSA, 2 companies made 1 squadron, 5 squadrons made a regiment. Fewer squadrons (or companies) made a Confederate battalion -- some of these being the cavalry portion of all-arms "legions" that had been separated from their infantry and artillery. Others being units that failed to raise enough men/companies to become regiments.

That said, the squadron, in either army, did not seem to be a permanent organization and had no regular commander -- it was commanded by the senior company commander. Union battalions, however, were official and had assigned commanders (nominally majors). Confederate battalions were supposed to be commanded by lieutenant colonels or majors, depending on their size.

huevans01128 Oct 2017 12:22 p.m. PST

That said, the squadron, in either army, did not seem to be a permanent organization and had no regular commander -- it was commanded by the senior company commander. Union battalions, however, were official and had assigned commanders (nominally majors). Confederate battalions were supposed to be commanded by lieutenant colonels or majors, depending on their size.

Unless battalions were ad hoc sub regimental sub-divisions in actual practice and the regulations were not followed?

huevans01128 Oct 2017 12:27 p.m. PST

"Leaving the Sixth and Seventh Michigan Cavalry to hold the force in my rear, I formed the Fifth Michigan Cavalry on my right in column of battalions; on my left I formed the first Michigan in column of squadrons."

This seems to be a clear reference to set tactical formations. I am guessing the a "column of squadrons" is a 2 company wide formation, as deep as the # of squadrons in the regt x 2 ranks each; a "column of battalions" is a 4 company wide formation, as deep as the # of battalions in the regt x 2 ranks each.

huevans01128 Oct 2017 12:32 p.m. PST

My regiment was ordered to hold the road to Todd's Tavern, to which I sent one squadron in the woods dismounted, on the right-hand side of the road, as flankers to one squadron mounted which was in the road, after which another squadron was sent to the right to continue the line and to make connection with the left of Colonel D.'s regiment.

If this was the entire regt, it would total 6 companies in all. If this was the entire regt, it would be too small to divide into battalions in any sensible way.

Trajanus28 Oct 2017 1:05 p.m. PST

Trust George to come up with a twist!

What the hell is a Column of Battalions? Well apart from nothing that exists in any manual, unless it's tucked in Poinsett somewhere, everything else has the Squadron as the largest sub unit of manoeuvre.

A Double Column of Squadrons would be a defacto Column of Battalions, I suppose. Otherwise it would just be a Column of Squadrons in Line.

Ryan T28 Oct 2017 6:38 p.m. PST

Custer's Brigade had another unique quality. The 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th Michigan all were deployed in a single rank. The Michigan Brigade used Cooke until they were ordered to switch over to Poinsett in the winter of 63-64.

The only other cavalry regiment in the AoP that did not use Poinsett was the 1st Maine. They fought in a single rank until the end of the war.

Battalions are mentioned several times in the same October engagement on which Custer reported:

Colonel Alger, of the Fifth Michigan Cavalry, who held the extreme left of my line, moved forward with one battalion of his regiment under the gallant Major Clark, and charged the enemy's battery…

Major Clark, Fifth Michigan cavalry, was detached from his regiment with one battalion. When the command retired to the north bank of the Broad run, he, with a small portion of his battalion, became separated from the rest of the command and were captured by the enemy…

(The 5th Michigan lost 79 men as captured or missing, three times that of any of the other regiments in the brigade)

Colonel Sawyer, 1st Vermont Cavalry, reported:

Major Hall, not yet recovered from recent illness, was compelled to turn his command over to Major Bennet, who in the absence of his own battalion, had been lately acting as my aide…

I was ordered to march upon the right of the road, and the orders I received seemed to imply that the general supposed I had a similar fine field to operate upon, but quite the reverse was true. I would receive an order to march in columns of battalions or squadrons, for instance, when I could hardly march by fours…. Emerging into the open fields at length for a mile or so had sufficient room to march in column of battalion, which we did, moving with the whole command at a rapid rate…

We reformed in columns of squadrons, and moving up on parallel lines with the cavalry on our left, came to a run with steep banks, compelling us to to break by fours to cross it, and reform again on the other side in column of squadrons…

I immediately threw forward one company (I) as skirmishers, who very soon encountered the enemy. The whole of the First Battalion [yes written in caps] soon became engaged, Major Bennet and Lieutenant-Colonel Preston pressing the enemy vigorously, and Major Wells keeping his reserve battalion [not capitalized] well up to the skirmish line…

It appears some units used battalions when it suited.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP28 Oct 2017 9:31 p.m. PST

I think that different organizational configurations were used as suited, depending on the theatre, the year and state, individual commanders as well as a widening range of tactical options being generated by war experiences to suggest just a few of the vagaries of cavalry operations.

There is a 20th Century view…as well as a wargame need for uniformity of organization and tactics that simply didn't exist during the ACW.

Trajanus29 Oct 2017 2:08 a.m. PST

That's a fair point. We probably do have an obsession with the organisation over the tactics that's driven by the number of bases per unit in any given ruleset.

One of the things this discussion has shown is how hard it is to reproduce the whole range of tactical options in what became a very flexible system as the War progressed.

I guess from that point of view a base system that allowed for Squadrons would cover the angles as at least that would allow battalion use if the player wanted.

It also occurs to me that size of Regiments is the key If you had 400+ men it's bound to give more advantage in Battalion use.

huevans01129 Oct 2017 6:27 a.m. PST

It also occurs to me that size of Regiments is the key If you had 400+ men it's bound to give more advantage in Battalion use.

My reaction too, when the MI Bde is mentioned.

Looking at the rosters for the Gettysburg Campaign, I get an average of 483 men for the 4 regts of the MI Bde. Kilpatrick's 1st Bde has an average of 481 men for the 4 regts. These are both hefty brigades.

Gregg's 2nd Bde has an average of 313 men. Devin's bde averages 350 men per regt. Merritt's regular bde averages 329 men per regt, but I do not have figures for the 6th US and didn't include it in the calculation.

It could be that some regts were too small to use battalions as a sub unit.

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