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"Officers - riding horses?" Topic

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674 hits since 20 Jun 2018
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redcoat21 Jun 2018 1:09 p.m. PST

Hi all,

I have tended to assume that pretty much all eighteenth-century (European) infantry officers on campaign, from ensign upwards, would have had riding horses for the *march*. I suspect there must have exceptions, like certain American campaigns (FIW / AWI), when local conditions (battling through the wilderness? amphibious landings, and the operations that developed from them?) would have absolutely precluded subalterns from having riding horses. But whether it was Howe's army in Pennsylvania in 1777, or Cornwallis's hard-bitten army in the Carolinas or Virginia in 1780-81, surely one would have expected *all* British officers to have ridden during the march? It may be simple prejudice, but I simply can't imagine *gentlemen* tramping along rutted roads with the common enlisted men!

Further to the above: whether or not officers had riding horses for the march, once in *combat* you'd certainly not have expected any but the *field* officers to have been mounted, surely? And if so, would it have been *all* the field officers, or only the battalion commander?

I should add that my interest is, generally, European C18th armies, with a specific focus on the British army in the American War.

Many thanks in advance for any observations!

42flanker21 Jun 2018 3:16 p.m. PST

Certainly, not many of the horses sent to the Chesapeake with Howe's army in summer 1777 survived the extended voyage south, and those that did were in a poor condition. Those most fit to be ridden were need to mount patrols forward to gather intelligence and also to round up livestock for the commissary and to supply replacement mounts. Brigadier Sir William Erskine, QMG, a former light dragoon, was active in leading these patrols out personally and narrowly risked capture on occasion.

In the infantry, priority was given to bat horses. Whether Howe allowed space on board the transports for company officers' private mounts I doubt but I couldn't say for sure. If he did, few would have made it to land.

Wagon transport and draft teams were always at a premium and in the early period hired or otherwise aquired locally until a regular system of transport was procured, under (questionable circumstances, whereby staff officers invested in transport then arranged for the Crown to hire horses and wagons from them)

As for Cornwallis' North Carolina campaign, I think it unlikely. If any company officers set off with personal mounts, by the end any horses other than the few animals required to carry minimal equipment and diminishing supplies would surely have been eaten. Access to forage in the late winter would have been very limited. As it is, the esprit de corps in the regiments that formed Cornwallis' force was such that from the General down officers shared the same hardships as the men, on the march and in camp.

My 10 centimes.

Fridericus22 Jun 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

There is a hint to horses of Cornwallis's army at Yorktown: When besieged, they killed all their horses and trew them into the river where the corpses floated about (see cotemporary reports).

historygamer22 Jun 2018 9:02 a.m. PST

Good question. So go to their basic training manual of the period. Likely only the officer commanding the battalion (regiment) was mounted. But take that with a grain of salt as often the battalions were led by more junior officers.

Likely just the brigade commander was mounted. I want to say Webster was mounted when he was shot at Guilford. Certainly Fraser was at Saratoga.

During the Braddock campaign, Benjamin Franklin was instrumental providing horses for the officers of the two regular regiments. Meaning – they did not bring any with them. Braddock brought a coach and four, but not sure if he really brought the four horses or purchased them once there, or even how long he used the coach. Likely not much use outside of Annapolis or Alexandria.

42flanker22 Jun 2018 12:06 p.m. PST

There's a difference between the Lt Col, Adjutant, and Senior Major, being the only officers mounted on parade and in battle, (and being subsidised accordingly), while other officers were permitted at their own expense to provide their own mounts to ride on the march together with a clutch of servants and a considerable amount of baggage to provide the comforts a gentleman might expect to enjoy while on campaign.

However we have plenty of AWI references to British officers, both battalion and flank, being required to march with little more than the clothes on their back and what they could carry, sleeping "in a soldiers tent" at best, or on the ground, even on occasion atop a fallen gate. A personal mount was not to be part of that equipage.

historygamer25 Jun 2018 7:16 a.m. PST

We know they often had horses. We also know that they often walked on foot. It depended on the location, campaign, etc. Hard to generalize.

historygamer28 Jun 2018 5:03 a.m. PST

Interesting thread on FB for Rev War regarding this topic. In many cases, all were on foot, though they sometimes had horses with the army. Interesting too as many also had knapsacks, canteens, etc. Some references to sleeping on bearskins (very F&I) covered by their cloaks or overcoats too.

crogge1757 Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 1:42 a.m. PST

In combat, it was determined by the regulations which officer was to serve on foot and who was to be mounted. It depended on the army in question. With a French battalion, the battalion commander was to serve dismounted, the single mounted officer was the one acting as the battalions major. He was placed behind the line. I think on the right. The next higher level above the battalion commander would have been the Brigadier. He was mounted as well, to my understanding. I believe the same applied to quite a few other armies as well. British, & also Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, etc. Though I have read, brigade commander mj. general Kingsley commanded on foot at the battle of Minden. Not sure if this was according to regulations or if he had got his horse shot before. In the Prussian army also the battalion commander was to serve mounted incl. the major. That is two mounted officers per battalion. Austrians handled matters same as the Prussians, I believe.


nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 6:14 p.m. PST

It was thought that Rifleman John Savage of the SC militia fired the first shot at Cowpens. I believe that there is a direct quote from one of the SC militiamen who was present and recounted that "A mounted British Officer" rode forward and ordered the rebels to disperse and cursed them. Savage reportedly stepped forward from the forward sharpshooter line and shot the officer from his horse.
Savage was a noted marksmen of his day.

The storyteller was speaking about the original British Line advance so I believe that he was referring to a regular British Line Officer.

I wonder if the British Army kept any record of this Officer's shooting or if the story has been recounted in any of the writings of the participants.

Anyway, this is evidence of Officers being mounted at least at Cowpens.

MiniPigs Supporting Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 7:45 p.m. PST

So…would you put a mounted officer within a unit of foot?

42flanker30 Jun 2018 2:38 a.m. PST

The commanding officer and adjutant of a British battalion, and perhaps the Major- ordinarily should be mounted.

Brechtel19801 Jul 2018 2:50 a.m. PST

John Eager Howard was mounted at Cowpens and both he and Col Gunby were mounted at Guilford Courthouse. Gunby's horse was shot out from under him there and Howard took over as Gunby was pinned under the horse. Otho Holland Williams, the Maryland Brigade Commander, was also mounted at Guilford Courthouse.

Senior officers, regimental and battalion commanders, were usually mounted as they had to control larger units and that would have been difficult on foot. They had to see what was going on and would have to get somewhere in a hurry and being on foot an officer couldn't do that. Company commanders and their subordinate officers were not mounted as their span of control was much smaller.

Virginia Tory02 Jul 2018 7:49 a.m. PST

"…recounted that "A mounted British Officer" rode forward and ordered the rebels to disperse and cursed them. Savage reportedly stepped forward from the forward sharpshooter line and shot the officer from his horse."

If so, it was an astoundingly dumb move. Sounds like 1775.

MiniPigs Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2018 7:51 a.m. PST

I wonder what curses he used?

"You rebel scum" comes to mind :)

nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Jul 2018 10:24 a.m. PST

The actual quote is "disperse ye damn Rebels."

Seems like I've heard that before.

historygamer02 Jul 2018 3:17 p.m. PST

I kind of find it hard to believe at that point of the war.

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