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"The Evolution of Union Cavalry 1861-1865" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP25 Jun 2021 10:22 p.m. PST

"The story of the Federal cavalry during the Civil War is not only the story of the development of raw recruits and officers from difficult beginnings to a finely honed and feared machine, but also the story of the evolution of an arm of the U.S. military that had been neglected before 1861. Those who became the commanders of Union cavalry had to figure out not only how to train their troopers and officers, but to determine exactly what their role and missions would be, what tactics would be needed to carry those tasks out, how cavalry would relate to the other two arms both in support and combat, and what their role would be in the overall strategic scheme for winning the war. Initially cavalry tasks were defined traditionally as: reconnaissance – locating and maintaining contact with the enemy, screening – covering and concealing the movements of your own army from the enemy's reconnaissance attempts, covering the flanks and rear of your army in battle and threatening those of your enemy, shock charges against the enemy to break them, to produce a rout, or, when your own army is withdrawing, to delay the pursuit, picketing, orderly, and provost duty and long distance raids designed to attack the supply lines of the enemy. At the time of Fort Sumter, the United States had 5 cavalry regiments; by December 1861 50 cavalry regiments were being raised. Throughout 1862 Union cavalry was used in traditional roles, in regimental or smaller sized units, often commanded by infantry generals, but during this time the cavalry became a competent veteran force, well equipped and tactically skilled. 1863 was the year in which Federal cavalry began to demonstrate the ability as an integral striking force of the army and cavalry began to be used in brigades and divisions, commanded by cavalry generals. At Brandy Station, Gettysburg and Chickamauga they showed they could delay and pursue infantry and act as a strike force. Large mounted raids began disrupting Confederate communications and supply. Joseph Hooker was the general who created the first Federal cavalry corps of three divisions and a reserve brigade. John Buford demonstrated the Federal cavalry's new power on July 1 where, fighting dismounted with their repeating carbines they held up the Confederate advance of Henry Heth on Gettysburg. A similar pattern of creating larger cavalry units and expanding their traditional role into that of a strike force fighting either mounted or dismounted occurred in the western theater. In 1863 the Federal cavalry became in effect dragoons, able to fight mounted or dismounted, in defense or assault, an integral part of the striking force of the whole army. Armed with breach loading carbines, six shot revolvers and sabres and supported by horse artillery, cavalry armies operated in close coordination with infantry or in independent commands. 1864 saw several large cavalry raids in Virginia and Atlanta and the continued growth the federal cavalry into a formidable force and by 1865 the Federal cavalry was probably the most formidable dragoon force in the world. By the time the United States was involved in another major war, the era of cavalry had passed and the horse replaced by motorized and airborne vehicles. There would never again be a need for masses of cavalry thrown against the territory of the enemy…"
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Armand

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2021 5:43 a.m. PST

The following book is not recommended for use on the Civil War, cavalry or otherwise (especially regarding artillery) contrary to the author of the article:

-The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War by Brent Nosworthy.

Instead, the following should be helpful in studying the cavalry of the Civil War:

-The Union Cavalry in the Civil War (3 Volumes) by Stephen Starr.

-The Cavalry at Gettysburg by Edward Longacre.

-Lee's Cavalrymen by Edward Longacre.

-General John Buford by Edward Longacre.

-Lincoln's Cavarlymen by Edward Longacre.

-The Cavalry at Appomattox by Edward Longacre.

-The Cavalry Manual of Horsemanship and Horsemastership: The Official Manual of the United States Cavalry School at Fort Riley, edited by Gordon Wright.

-Clash of Cavalry: The Battle of Brandy Station by Fairfax Downey.

-The Horse Soldier 1776-1943: Volumes I and II (1776-1850 and 1851-1880, respectively), by Randy Steffen.

Excellent material on the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac can also be found in Bruce Catton's trilogy of that army.

Oddball26 Jun 2021 7:04 a.m. PST

I was talking about my equestrian "skills" the other day.

I can ride a horse, get it from A to B, understand how to do it and have had horses at full gallop (wow, what power those fine animals have).

That being said, I have friends that look like they were born in the saddle and have seen first hand what a real rider can do.

I described by "skill" to this fellow wargamer as…..

"I'm like a Federal cavalry trooper around October '61. I get the concepts, but a bit rough around the edges."

Communication is the skill of getting messages understood between people or groups, so I was successful. He immediately understood and said…..

"So you are one level above suck".

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2021 9:38 a.m. PST

To add to Kevin's suggestions, above, might I recommend two books about the use (or misuse) of cavalry during the Chickamauga campaign and battle, Buford's stand at Gettysburg, and Grierson's Raid through Mississippi, all in 1863.

Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign by David A. Powell (author of the excellent The Maps of Chickamauga

Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg

"The Devil's to Pay": John Buford ay Gettysburg. A History and Walking Tour by Eric Wittenberg

The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson's Epic 1863 Civil War Raid through Mississippi by Timothy B. Smith

All four of these books describe the evolution (or devolution) of the Union and Confederate cavalry during the midpoint of the Civil War at the three pivotal campaigns/battles that, in my opinionm decided the fate of the Confederacy.

Jim

Blutarski26 Jun 2021 1:33 p.m. PST

Brechtel198 wrote -
The following book is not recommended for use on the Civil War, cavalry or otherwise (especially regarding artillery) contrary to the author of the article:
-The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War by Brent Nosworthy.


Instead, the following should be helpful in studying the cavalry of the Civil War:
-The Union Cavalry in the Civil War (3 Volumes) by Stephen Starr.

- – -

I concur with both of Brechtel's comments.

B

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2021 4:18 p.m. PST

Many thanks!

Armand

rmaker28 Jun 2021 7:41 p.m. PST

Yes, Starr is essential. And he repeatedly makes the point that learning to care for the horse is just as important as learning to fight with it.

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