Saturday, January 18, 2014

Civil War Cavalry Weapons and Battles

Civil War Cavalry Weapons and Battles

The Union and Confederate Military


Traditionally, cavalry was considered the “eyes” of the army, scouting, guarding supply lines, and screening the army’s flanks from the enemy. When required, the cavalry could also disrupt enemy communication and supply lines, provide a mobile striking force, or defend key terrain. The Civil War army, Union and Confederate, consisted primarily of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Occasionally, without even firing a rifle or wielding a saber, cavalry turned the tide of battle by providing reconnaissance. 
Cavalry played a prominent role in the outcome of many major battles and campaigns during the conflict and it was a critical component in the army organization. Cavalry often collected intelligence, such as enemy position and movement, and forwarded the vital information to the respective command, which allowed headquarters to respond accordingly with its infantry and artillery. Many Civil War battlefields may be viewed as a chess match, with cavalry retaining the position of the knights. The exigencies of battle were often met because cavalry was on the scene and it allowed the commanding general to be armed with precise intelligence to make an informed decision.
Cavalry generally fought dismounted, with every fourth trooper holding the horses of his comrades. Either mounted or dismounted, troopers might advance in two ranks, the first rank firing and, while reloading, the second rank advanced through the first. The maneuver was repeated until the objective was obtained. If forced to fall back, the troops could reverse the maneuver. Prior to the Civil War, mounted cavalry charges against infantry were not uncommon, but with the widespread use of the long-range rifled musket such assaults were often suicidal.
The Battle of Brandy Station involved nearly 22,000 cavalry and was the largest cavalry engagement on American soil.
The Union and Confederate Armies in the field were not just in the market for food and clothing, but animals were a major resource for the war effort. Prices for horses rose from $100 at the outset to $185 by war's end. The Union army exhausted approximately 500 horses per day by war's end so that despite efforts to supply the insatiable demand, the horse population in the Union dropped by nearly half a million. Mules were as much in demand as horses.

Cavalry of the U.S. Civil War was an integral part and member of the "army organization." The cavalry branch was one of three principal branches that formed the army; the other two were the infantry and artillery. As the physical body has parts, and parts have functions, so did the Civil War army. The infantry was the legs that carried the body into the brunt of the fighting, while the cavalry was the eyes that could locate and direct the body prior, during and even after the battle (cavalry also fought, mainly dismounted), and the artillery was the arms that was capable of reaching out and touching the enemy from a distance. The body requires the legs, the arms, and the eyes in order to function perfectly. Remove an eye, the body suffers. Remove a leg, the body suffers. Remove an arm and a leg and the body suffers severely. Now what occurs when one has lost both eyes? So one member or part of the body is not more vital and significant than another part, but together, each part forms the unit, the Civil War army unit. A well-disciplined and trained body, army body, consisting of artillery, infantry, and cavalry working together with each member performing its respective responsibilities and roles, was the goal of both Northern and Southern armies. Most battles during the Civil War were lost because the body was absent or missing a "part" prior or during the engagement. On the other hand, one army was victorious during the battle because its body remained intact and functioned well. 
Absent Confederate cavalry prior to and during the initial fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg, according to many, was to blame for the Confederate loss of the entire three day battle itself. The writer does not espouse that view, but because many have embraced it in their writings, it merely indicates the prominence of cavalry.
At Gettysburg, Gen. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, while Gen. JEB Stuart commanded the Army of Northern Virginia's only cavalry division. Stuart delayed his arrival at Gettysburg, causing, according to some staff officers, some words of rebuke from Lee to Stuart. "Well General Stuart, you are here at last?" Allegedly Lee's exact words.
For example, to demonstrate the importance of cavalry, let's examine a short conversation from the movie Gettysburg (1993) between Lee and Stuart. Although the following conversation never occurred during the Battle of Gettysburg, it is interesting nevertheless. Following the actual quotes are comments in the brackets.
Upon his arrival at Gettysburg, Stuart reports immediately to Lee at headquarters.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart: You wish to see me, sir?
General Robert E. Lee: [Lee nods and sighs; there is a short pause] It is the opinion of some... excellent officers that you have let us all down.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart: [angry at the slight to his honor] General Lee, sir, if you will please tell me who these gentlemen are...
General Robert E. Lee: There will be none of that. There is no time.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart: Sir, I only ask that I be allowed to defend my...
General Robert E. Lee: [raising his voice slightly] There is no time.
[Stuart looks stunned]
General Robert E. Lee: General Stuart... your mission was to free this army from the enemy cavalry and report any movement by the enemy's main body. That mission was not fulfilled. You left here with no word of your movement or movement of the enemy for several days. Meanwhile, we were engaged here and drawn into battle without adequate knowledge of the enemy's strength or position, without knowledge of the ground. So it is only by God's grace that we did not meet disaster here.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart: General Lee, there were reasons...
General Robert E. Lee: [Lee holds up his hand to silence Stuart] Perhaps you misunderstood my orders? Perhaps I did not make myself clear. Well, sir... this must be made very clear. You, sir, with your cavalry, are the eyes of this army. Without your cavalry, we are made blind. That has already happened once. It must never, never happen again.
Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart: [Stuart stares at the floor, then slowly draws his sword in token of his resignation] Sir... since I no longer hold the General's...
General Robert E. Lee: [suddenly furious, Lee pounds the table with his fist] I have told you, there is no time for that! There is no time!
[he pauses, takes a deep breath, and calms down again]
General Robert E. Lee: There is another fight comin' tomorrow, and we need you. We need every man, God knows. You must take what I have told you, and learn from it, as a man does.
[he takes Stuart's sword and replaces it in its scabbard]
General Robert E. Lee: There has been a mistake. It will not happen again; I know your quality. You are one of the finest cavalry officers I have ever known, and your service to this army has been invaluable. Now... let us speak no more of this.
[he turns and slowly walks away, then turns back to Stuart]
General Robert E. Lee: The matter is concluded. Good night, General.
[not knowing what to think of this show of mercy, Stuart snaps a crisp salute, and Lee returns it]

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