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"Of Sabres and Horse Charges" Topic


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192 hits since 12 Sep 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0112 Sep 2018 1:01 p.m. PST

"I am pleased to welcome Dan Murphy to Small But Important Riots. I had the pleasure of meeting Dan, along with author and historian Patrick O'Donnell, a couple months ago when I guided them over the Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville Battlefields. Dan is an author, historian and cavalry re-enactor, in addition to his day job. Over the course of the day on the battlefields and several follow-up discussions I have developed a better sense of just how much I still need to learn about how cavalry operated in the field. As Dan mentions below, maps and first-hand accounts are essential tools we all rely upon, but none of these sources give a writer like myself (one with limited experience in the saddle) a practical knowledge of cavalry formations, maneuvers and combat. I am lucky to count friends like Andrew German, historian of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, and Dan Murphy, both cavalry re-enactors of many years, as friends and mentors.

To students of the War Between The States, and cavalry in particular, we often envision horse combats by reading first hand accounts, period After Action Reports and studying maps both period and modern. While these are our best sources of information, these traditional avenues can lead to misconceptions. In my opinion a lot of the confusion arrives from battle maps. Don't get me wrong, I love maps, they are essential in studying history, but maps are far better representations of siege lines than horse charges. While maps are great visual aids in quickly placing combat groups on known terrain, they tend to give a static, 1st phase, 2nd phase, 3rd phase, series of clear, controlled steps to mounted combat. As an experiment drop some raisins on the ground in range of two ant mounds. Then sit back and watch the rush of insects and the wave of attacks on the raisins. Like the swarming ants, horse combats were fluid affairs that could quickly change course whenever a new raisin arrived.

The power of a horse charge derived from its speed and collective momentum. As prey animals, horses are instinctually hard wired to stay together, and it is this herding instinct that makes a horse charge even plausible. To harness this potential power, horses and riders had to be capable of moving in cohesive blocks of multiple fronts at different speeds over varying terrain. Such discipline only came with long hours of repetitive practice of a written, consistent drill that standardized the movements. The most common, or familiar, drill in the WBTS was J. R. Poinsett's, Cavalry Tactics, issued by the U.S. War Department before the Mexican War. Poinsett's utilized a two rank formation with a front rank and rear rank, and each file, or front rank trooper, had a file mate directly behind him in the rear rank. Troopers were grouped into platoons and two platoons formed a 100-man company also known as a troop in the field a troop usually numbered between 50 and 60 men. Two troops, commanded by a senior captain, formed a squadron and the squadron served as the basic tactical element of the cavalry. Two squadrons formed a battalion commanded by a major, and three battalions formed a regiment, commanded by a colonel with an assisting lieutenant colonel and regimental staff. A brigade, commanded by a brigadier general, was formed of three or four regiments, and a division created by linking two or three brigades. Rank rarely kept up with responsibility, battalions were at times commanded by captains while colonels sometimes led brigades…."
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Amicalement
Armand

Tango0112 Sep 2018 1:08 p.m. PST

What?… this was for the ACW… DA BUG……!


Amicalement
Armand

Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2018 2:05 p.m. PST

Very interesting article. I learned a few things. Thanks

Tango0113 Sep 2018 12:22 p.m. PST

A votre service mon ami1. (smile)


Amicalement
Armand

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