View single post by Don
 Posted: Mon Oct 27th, 2008 10:30 pm
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Joined: Thu Nov 15th, 2007
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado USA
Posts: 111

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Since Eric (both more productive and much more knowledgeable than yours truly) hasn't re-visited, I'll chime in with my two cents.  And maybe even answer ole's question at the same time.

The CSA and USA cavalries did indeed begin the war with different assignments.  I wouldn't necessarily attribute this to a particular general, but rather note that tacttics were evolving as the war began.  Initially, generals of both sides started out with the tactics that had been successful during the previous war (the Mexican War).  In the case of the cavalry, I think the developments were due to the conditions of the Peninsula Campaign.

Why so late?  Well, there really wasn't a great deal of cavalry work in the first bull Run campaign.  Some, but not a lot, and what there was was not particularly significant.  In the eastern theater, not much else major happens involving entire armies until the following spring on the peninsula.

The Union landed a large army at Fortress Monroe next to modern day (and period) Hampton, VA and began to advance up the peninsula toward Richmond.  Magruder (then J.E. Johnston, then Lee) had far fewer men than the Union had to contest the advance, and needed to know where the enemy was.  He also didn't have much cavalry available, so he focused them on reconnaissance and keeping him informed of Union moves.  The fact that a good portion of his available cavalry was from the peninsula didn't hurt their accuracy, I'm sure.  So their focus starts out on reconnaissance, which they initially perform quite well.  Later in the campaign, partially due to this success, Lee agrees to mass his cavalry under Stuart.  Soon after, he completes his first ride around the Army of the Potomac, ruining the career of his father-in-law, Brig.Gen. Philip St George Cooke, in the process.

In the Union Army of the Potomac, there were two uses of cavalry.  Each major infantry formation had some volunteer units to serve as escorts, carry dispatches, perform picket duty, etc.  All of the available regular units and some volunteer units were kept under army control as a "Cavalry Reserve," to be used for pursuit of a defeated force.  They did little or nothing until after the Confederates abandoned Yorktown, then were sent forward as a reconnaissance in force to regain contact with the Confederates.  After a skirmish at Williamsburg, they were moved out of the way and infantry brought up to continue the fight.  When the Confederates pulled back again, they were sent forward to clear a path of advance for the army to Burnt Ordinary, Barhamsville, and on to Hanover Court House.

There's your difference.  Union cavalry was used to guard the flanks and rear and clear the path of advance.  Confederate cavalry was used to keep track of where the enemy was and keep the commander informed.  This is a little simplistic, but it's a discussion group reply, not a book or thesis.  I chose this campaign as an illustration, but the initial approaches were similar in both theaters.

This changed over time, of course.  By late 1862, Union commanders were finally starting to mass their cavalry and focus them on reconnaissance and fighting their opponents' cavalry.  For all of his other faults, I think General Hooker should actually get credit for turning this around in the Army of the Potomac during the winter following Fredericksburg.

As for saber charges by cavalry, believe it or not there were more in the west than in the east.  The exact number escapes me, but I believe the 7th PA Cavalry of Minty's Brigade (nicknamed, appropriately enough, The Saber Regiment) holds the record for most saber charges during the war.

Buford?  My hero, but then the focus of my research is on his troops of the Reserve Brigade.  A little known fact: after the Chickamauga Campaign in October 1863, General Rosecrans had petitioned for and received approval to transfer Buford and his Regulars, with his consent, to assume command of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Cumberland.  Unfortunately, the Bristoe Campaign started before word could reach Buford, and he was sick with the typhoid that killed him by the end of the campaign.

As for Ole's myth, I think it's correct to an extent, but has been blown out of proportion by hype.  I have pre-war occupations for about half of one of the regular regiments during the war now (and building).  A quarter were immigrants, most of whom were carpernters, blacksmiths or others who wouldn't have been accustomed to riding.  About a third were farmers, but generally from smaller farms where animals would have been for labor and not riding.  In the south, farms and plantations were larger, and more would be used to riding.   This would have been much more noticeable early in the war, as you had to bring your mount if you wanted to serve in the Confederate Cavalry.  It's a pretty reasonable assumption that if you own a horse you can probably ride it.  Not always, but generally.

However, I don't completely buy the myth, because the Army of the Potomac's cavalry units spent all winter drilling and practicing riding and mounted drill, there being little else to do.  By the time of the spring campaign, they should have been prety competent.  I think it falls back on the roles argument.  If Stuart's regiment is fighting small detahcments guarding a ford or an infantry unit's flank, they're of course going to roll right over them and look very impressive doing so.

Sorry for the rambling post, but hopefully this answered a question or two, and maybe created a few more.  8^)


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