The Army of the Potomac started the way at a disadvantage. By already starting behind the Confederac...
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The Army of the Potomac started the way at a disadvantage. By already starting behind the Confederacy in horsemanship skills and knowledge, the Union mounted forces became an effective fighting force, but was it too late?

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The Union

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The union

The Army of the Potomac started the way at a disadvantage. By already starting behind the Confederacy in horsemanship skills and knowledge, the Union mounted forces became an effective fighting force, but was it too late?

The horses that were gathered to create the Union cavalry forces were small and not raised for fast and heavy riding.

The Union

Commanders were misguided to model their cavalry forces after those found in Europe because the fighting style needed was completely different.

The use of a saber charge in battle rarely resulted in positive results and became more harmful than useful.

Mounted soldiers became used more for raiding and scouting than in actually battle because of their ineffectiveness.

The cavalries’ greatest critics say that both the Union and the Confederacy did not use their mounted forces effectively during the time of war. During many battles, the cavalries suffered the least losses, and this was not because of their superb fighting strategy and style. The spare use of the cavalry during the intense combat gave these forces what could appear to be amazingly low casualty numbers. Unlike the famous European cavalries, neither the North nor the South used their mounted riders during the climax of a battle to determine the overall victor in the face-off. Many historians have criticized the infamous “charge” of the cavalries as being on the most ineffective fighting strategies utilized during the Civil War. With the advance of weapons from the saber to firing muskets and riffles it was easier for an infantry to advance and fight in a non-block formation than it was for the cavalries to organize themselves for a charge. The scouting and rampaging duties of the cavalries became want they were known for. But their skills were developed too little too late.

How could they have been more effective?

Griffith. "Civil War Cavalry: Missed Opportunities.” Advertisment. Poster. MHQ; the Quarterly Journal of Military History 1, no. 3 (April 1989) 62.

The Confederacy

They had the advantage with better horses and more experienced riders over the cavalry from the North.

J.E.B. Stuart’s no hold back fighting style accounted for many Confederate victories, but also some faults.

“General J.E.B. Stuart” Photograph. Civilwar.org<

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jeb-stuart.html>

The Confederate cavalry seemed to be the naturally superior at the start of the war, but many fatal mistakes and the loss of key leaders may have changed their standing.

Notes

Paddy Griffith. "Civil War Cavalry: Missed Opportunities." MHQ; the Quarterly Journal of Military History 1, no. 3 (April 1989): 60-71. American: History and Life.

Correspondent, "Suggestions from Paris." New York Times (1857-1922), Jul 17, 1861. http://search.proquest.com/docview/91577931?accountid=11012.

Southern cavalry officers had issues with soldier discipline

At the battle of Gettysburg, Confederate cavalry missed a chance for glory because they were off plundering.

“Dismount Parade of the 7th New York Cavalry in Camp” Photograph. 1862. Civilwarphotos.net <http://www.civilwarphotos.net/files/cavalry.htm>

Sarah Stanley

FYW- Battle of Autumn 1862

Were Civil War Cavalries Used Effectively?

  • But what could have made these forces successful? Historian Paddy Griffith says that there are four major components that increase the success of the cavalry. One factor was the element of faster mobility that cavalries held over infantries. This could move a regiment closer or farther away from the opposing force faster, creating more opportunity for fighting strategies to form. Secondly, cavalries need to be flexible in their fighting style, if the situation called for it the men must be prepared to dismount and continue fighting on foot and be prepared to win this way. They were soldiers on horseback, the soldier part of the description came first and that meant winning the battle at all costs. The third factor was a matter of patience as cavalries had to be willing to hold back a reserve force that was able to make a charge if the situation allowed. Lastly, cavalries, as with any parts of a military fighting force, needed to adjust and change with the new technology of the age in order to keep ahead of the enemy.

  • “Federal Cavalry Column” Photograph. 1862. Civilwarphotos.net <http://www.civilwarphotos.net/files/cavalry.htm>


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