Cavalry during the Civil War.

sacho12

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Oct 18, 2016
Location
Vladivostok, Russia
Hello.
Friends, I wanted to ask for help on the role of cavalry in the civil war on both sides of the conflict.
Surely this question is well known to all of you, but I, who lived on the other side of the world and collected the saber of the US cavalry, including the period of the Civil War, were always interested in this question.
The fact is that I found information that the role of cavalry in the United States after the civil war, including during the so-called "Indian wars", was reduced to the role of mobile mounted detachments that used multi-shot rifles and revolvers and did not use swords at all . I do not know how true this is. But I'm interested in the role of cavalry during the Civil War and it is the question of using sabers in attacks and battles.
I read, as on the Internet, a commentary of one person who showed a saber of light cavalry of the model of 1860, belonging to his great-grandfather, a participant in the civil war. According to the stories of this great-grandfather who retold in the family, he used the sword during the war only once and then to fry the pheasant at the stake.
If the swords were not used by cavalry during the Civil War, why then they were released in such quantities as in the North and in the South.
Thankful in advance for the interest in my topic and the answers in it.
Sincerely, Vladimir.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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Columbus, OH
Sabers had little value in fighting with Indians. They did not come close enough to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Further, technology had evolved to the point where repeating rifles had become extremely effective tools--that began during the Civil War. However, sabers were used extensively during the Civil War. Col. Robert H. G. Minty's Union cavalry brigade was known as the Saber Brigade.

At Shelbyville, Tennessee on June 27, 1863, Minty's brigade, with a determined saber charge, routed and shattered an entire Confederate cavalry corps.
 

redbob

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Hoover, Alabama
While waiting on someone much more knowledgeable than me (which he just has) to weigh in on the subject, here are my thoughts:
Swords were in their last hurrah during the Civil War, in previous wars (both foreign and domestic) edged weapons had been the "go to" weapons as pistols were primarily single shot and long arms were next to impossible to use on a horse. With the advent of the Civil War, pistols were now multiple shot and in a fight between a sword/sabre and a pistol, I know who my money would be on. Swords were of the most value as a "terror" weapon when riding down fleeing or disorganized troops. Leaders such as Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Singleton Mosby discouraged the use of swords/sabres and encouraged the use of pistols while there were leaders such as JEB Stuart that still encouraged the carrying and use of edged weapons. Also, keep in mind that from the factory; very little of the edge was sharpened and the way to use the edged weapon was to spear and not slash and it was up to the Commanders to encourage or require that the edges of the swords/sabres be sharpened. By the 1870's, the US Cavalry was seeing that the sword/sabre was more an ornamental piece than a fighting one and an example of this is the fact that by the time of Custer's Last Stand, the 7th Cavalry's swords had been collected and sent back to Fort Lincoln for storage.
 

67th Tigers

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Joined
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The eventual dominance of the Federal cavalry had to do with them starting to liberally use the sabre.

Essentially the sabre was the best weapon for mounted combat and the carbine is required to dismount. The revolver was a contingency weapon which was useful for "dueling" or if the enemy was inaccessible, but generally much less useful than a sabre in the open field.

The weight of all three weapons was too much. The revolver was a necessary self-defence weapon, but useless in the attack. Hence regiments equipped some of their men with sabres for mounted offensive action, and some with carbines for dismounted defensive action.
 
Joined
Sep 27, 2016
Cavalry and swordsmanship was definitely not unused or ineffective in this period.
And for those that refer to the pistol and carbine as the end of the sabre - the sabre does not jam not misfire, and you cannot effectively attack or defend yourself with either weapon as you can with a sabre or pallasch.

The reason we don't here much of the sabre in the ACW is because we have a very strange perception of the sword as a useless instrument, and fall to the modern idea that the gun trumped all, when in reality there are numerous accounts (interestingly the most come from the British Empire using colts) of revolvers failing to kill a charging opponent, or missing all six shots.

As already stated - the Federal cavalry took great gains when they started to use the sabre as a weapon of war.

As an aside, here are two great excerpts regarding the American sabre
jtIn2UE.png


"As a result of the protest there was a general order in the army of Cumberland resulting in sharpened sabres" - far from useless.

LCcQ3H4.jpg
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Vladimir - sabres were rarely used and it was not unknown for cavalry to fight dismounted as infantry. That said, they were used and you may want to look up Col. Minty's Sabre Brigade. John Heberich's book, Masters of the Field, covers the numerous charges of that brigade that even stormed entrenched Confederates and drove them from their fortifications. Confederate "wizard of the saddle" N. B. Forrest was known to have slain men with his sabre too.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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I'm currently reading a book called, "War Years with Jeb Stuart" by W.W. Blackford. That group was swashbuckling with their swords every chance they could get.

Here's an excerpt he writes about the Lancers:

"It was during this advance that we met for the first and last time the Lancers, a Pennsylvania regiment which we had heard a great deal about; it had been gotten up regardless of expense, and was called in the Northern papers "the finest body of troops in the world" -- and so they were, as far as their tailors could make them, and they were certainly well mounted, for even Comet (his fine blooded horse) could not overtake them in the mile or two race I have them, though they had only a hundred yards start.

I must confess I felt a little creeping of the flesh when I saw this splendid looking body of men, about seven hundred strong, drawn up in line of battle in a large open field two or three hundred yards off, armed with long poles with glittering steel points. To think of one of these being run through a fellow was not at all pleasant. The appearance they presented was certainly very fine, with a tall forest of lances held erect and at the end of each, just below the head, a red pennant fluttering in the breeze.

Stuart quickly threw a regiment into line and ordered the charge. I joined in, and down upon them we swept with a yell, at full speed. They lowered their lances to a level and started in fine style to meet us midway, but long before we reached them the gay lancers' hearts failed them and they turned to fly. For miles the exciting chase was kept up, the road was strewn with lances thrown away in their flight, and nothing but the fleetness of their horses saved them all from capture."


I would say that was the last and final gasp of lances in modern warfare.
 

redbob

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Location
Hoover, Alabama
I'm currently reading a book called, "War Years with Jeb Stuart" by W.W. Blackford. That group was swashbuckling with their swords every chance they could get.

Here's an excerpt he writes about the Lancers:

"It was during this advance that we met for the first and last time the Lancers, a Pennsylvania regiment which we had heard a great deal about; it had been gotten up regardless of expense, and was called in the Northern papers "the finest body of troops in the world" -- and so they were, as far as their tailors could make them, and they were certainly well mounted, for even Comet (his fine blooded horse) could not overtake them in the mile or two race I have them, though they had only a hundred yards start.

I must confess I felt a little creeping of the flesh when I saw this splendid looking body of men, about seven hundred strong, drawn up in line of battle in a large open field two or three hundred yards off, armed with long poles with glittering steel points. To think of one of these being run through a fellow was not at all pleasant. The appearance they presented was certainly very fine, with a tall forest of lances held erect and at the end of each, just below the head, a red pennant fluttering in the breeze.

Stuart quickly threw a regiment into line and ordered the charge. I joined in, and down upon them we swept with a yell, at full speed. They lowered their lances to a level and started in fine style to meet us midway, but long before we reached them the gay lancers' hearts failed them and they turned to fly. For miles the exciting chase was kept up, the road was strewn with lances thrown away in their flight, and nothing but the fleetness of their horses saved them all from capture."


I would say that was the last and final gasp of lances in modern warfare.
Rush's Lancers kept their lances while acting as the Headquarter's Guard for the Army of the Potomac and they did not trade them in for Sharp's Carbines until shortly before Gettysburg. The South also briefly had a Lancer Unit in the Trans Mississippi Theater.
 
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Joined
Sep 27, 2016
I'm currently reading a book called, "War Years with Jeb Stuart" by W.W. Blackford. That group was swashbuckling with their swords every chance they could get.

Here's an excerpt he writes about the Lancers:

"It was during this advance that we met for the first and last time the Lancers, a Pennsylvania regiment which we had heard a great deal about; it had been gotten up regardless of expense, and was called in the Northern papers "the finest body of troops in the world" -- and so they were, as far as their tailors could make them, and they were certainly well mounted, for even Comet (his fine blooded horse) could not overtake them in the mile or two race I have them, though they had only a hundred yards start.

I must confess I felt a little creeping of the flesh when I saw this splendid looking body of men, about seven hundred strong, drawn up in line of battle in a large open field two or three hundred yards off, armed with long poles with glittering steel points. To think of one of these being run through a fellow was not at all pleasant. The appearance they presented was certainly very fine, with a tall forest of lances held erect and at the end of each, just below the head, a red pennant fluttering in the breeze.

Stuart quickly threw a regiment into line and ordered the charge. I joined in, and down upon them we swept with a yell, at full speed. They lowered their lances to a level and started in fine style to meet us midway, but long before we reached them the gay lancers' hearts failed them and they turned to fly. For miles the exciting chase was kept up, the road was strewn with lances thrown away in their flight, and nothing but the fleetness of their horses saved them all from capture."


I would say that was the last and final gasp of lances in modern warfare.
Perhaps in America, or if I am misinterpreting your comment to be only relevant to the Americas. But the Germans and English found lances to be of use, the British finding out they didn't like them in the wars with Sudan and the Germans using them into WW1, with Kaiser Willy designating them the official weapon of the German Cavalry, and Argentina getting in on lancing with the Modelo 1895 supplied by the Germans.

A lance is nearly useless in a melee and this was demonstrated in the Napoleonic and Colonial wars. Those federal troops would have perhaps gotten a few rebels but been made mincemeat of in the melee unless they quickly drew sabre.
 

redbob

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Perhaps in America, or if I am misinterpreting your comment to be only relevant to the Americas. But the Germans and English found lances to be of use, the British finding out they didn't like them in the wars with Sudan and the Germans using them into WW1, with Kaiser Willy designating them the official weapon of the German Cavalry, and Argentina getting in on lancing with the Modelo 1895 supplied by the Germans.

A lance is nearly useless in a melee and this was demonstrated in the Napoleonic and Colonial wars. Those federal troops would have perhaps gotten a few rebels but been made mincemeat of in the melee unless they quickly drew sabre.
The Mexican Army found them quite effective against the Americans at Goliad and the Alamo for dispatching fleeing survivors.
 
Joined
Sep 27, 2016
The Mexican Army found them quite effective against the Americans at Goliad and the Alamo for dispatching fleeing survivors.
True. Was the battle of Goliad cavalry on cavalry action? I looked it up and can't find anything but a massacre and a fort battle.

Against feeling troops, but then again that's less of a melee and more of a "continuation of an offensive action" I suppose.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Hello.
Friends, I wanted to ask for help on the role of cavalry in the civil war on both sides of the conflict.
Surely this question is well known to all of you, but I, who lived on the other side of the world and collected the saber of the US cavalry, including the period of the Civil War, were always interested in this question.
The fact is that I found information that the role of cavalry in the United States after the civil war, including during the so-called "Indian wars", was reduced to the role of mobile mounted detachments that used multi-shot rifles and revolvers and did not use swords at all . I do not know how true this is. But I'm interested in the role of cavalry during the Civil War and it is the question of using sabers in attacks and battles.
I read, as on the Internet, a commentary of one person who showed a saber of light cavalry of the model of 1860, belonging to his great-grandfather, a participant in the civil war. According to the stories of this great-grandfather who retold in the family, he used the sword during the war only once and then to fry the pheasant at the stake.
If the swords were not used by cavalry during the Civil War, why then they were released in such quantities as in the North and in the South.
Thankful in advance for the interest in my topic and the answers in it.
Sincerely, Vladimir.
Based on my readings about the insurgency in Missouri the mounted Confederate guerrillas often carried two or more revolvers and Union counterinsurgency troops that fought them often did the same when they could. In addition Confederate guerrillas also favored shotguns. Neither side utilized edged weapons.
Also many units on both sides used mounted infantry which used horses as,a means of transportation and mostly fought on foot. Such units didn't really use edged weapons. As others mentioned the Civil War was the last use of edged weapons for American Cavalry. The U.S. Army would have a Cavalry Arm until 1943 but after the Indian wars their value decreased.
Leftyhunter
 

redbob

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Location
Hoover, Alabama
True. Was the battle of Goliad cavalry on cavalry action? I looked it up and can't find anything but a massacre and a fort battle.

Against feeling troops, but then again that's less of a melee and more of a "continuation of an offensive action" I suppose.
The Mexican Presidial Lancers would circle battlefields (or in this case a mass execution scene) and would be used to drive back their own troops fleeing the scene or to dispatch any opponents that were trying to escape either on foot or horseback. They were also used as provost officers or to spear food such as pigs or cattle.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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Location
Columbus, OH
Rush's Lancers kept their lances while acting as the Headquarter's Guard for the Army of the Potomac and they did not trade them in for Sharp's Carbines until shortly before Gettysburg. The South also briefly had a Lancer Unit in the Trans Mississippi Theater.

I hate to correct you, but you're only partially correct.

Ten companies of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry served in the field as part of the Reserve Brigade. Two companies--E and I--served as headquarters escort, Army of the Potomac, for most of 1863. The ten companies in the field turned in their lances in April 1863. Cos. E and I turned them in on May 5, 1863. All twelve companies were always armed with carbines from the time the regiment was raised in 1861. This famous photograph of Company I of the Lancers was taken the day before they turned the lances in--I know when it was taken because this photograph is mentioned in one Sgt. Thomas W. Smith's letters. You can see Matthew Brady's photographic wagon just behind the stacked lances.

The civilian seated on the ground in front of the stacked lances is the famous artist Alfred Waud. The officer seated on the camp stool is Capt. James Starr, commander of Co. I, who was a Harvard-trained lawyer who was severely wounded at Todd Tavern, May 8, 1864. The officer seated on the ground, facing to the right, is Lt. Frank Furness, who was awarded a Medal of Honor for his role at the 1864 Battle of Trevilian Station--he was the only major American architect to be awarded the Medal. The trooper standing in the center who looks like he's leaning on his saber, next to the horse, is Sgt. Thomas W. Smith. I edited and published Smith's letters.

Corbis-IH158052.jpg
 
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Pittsburgh, PA
The eventual dominance of the Federal cavalry had to do with them starting to liberally use the sabre.

Essentially the sabre was the best weapon for mounted combat and the carbine is required to dismount. The revolver was a contingency weapon which was useful for "dueling" or if the enemy was inaccessible, but generally much less useful than a sabre in the open field.

The weight of all three weapons was too much. The revolver was a necessary self-defence weapon, but useless in the attack. Hence regiments equipped some of their men with sabres for mounted offensive action, and some with carbines for dismounted defensive action.

Why exactly were pistols "much less useful" than sabers in a mounted attack? At any range at which a saber would have been any use at all, a multi-shot pistol would have been lethal. Historian Paul Fehrenbach wrote that on the Texas plains in the 1830's and 40's, the introduction of revolving pistols completely changed the military balance between the US cavalry and the native tribes. He pointed out that prior to that time, cavalrymen or Texas rangers armed with only long guns needed to dismount to make a stand, while the Comanches could shoot their bows from horseback and hit their targets (from either "fifty feet," or "fifty yards," I can't quite remember.) This fact put the cavalry at a huge disadvantage. But once revolving pistols came along, Fehrenbach pointed out that the cavalry and rangers subsequently had a more potent mounted weapon than the indians. Why would not the same logic have applied even more clearly to a contest between pistols and sabers, rather than pistols versus bows? Comanche bows could kill from far beyond saber range.
 
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Eric Wittenberg

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Location
Columbus, OH
As you can see from the dust jacket of the regimental history of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry that I published a few years back, I'm a little familiar with that image of Company I. That same image was also used on the dust jacket of my "We Have It Damned Hard Out Here": The Civil War Letters of Sgt. Thomas W. Smith, Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. :smile:
51N9rjUrdBL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
 
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