Cavalry in the Civil War

archieclement

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#1
Theres two aspects that's always seemed somewhat strange to me, the civil war was largely fought using Napoleonic Tactics, however didn't Napoleonic Tactics call for using Cavalry to focus a concentration for the breakthrough? And never seemed really used as such in the CW.

Also as a student of the west and the guerrilla war, what light horse could do with firepower of multiple pistols once they closed the range as at the battle of Centralia, would seem to have had value if had been used on larger scale in bigger battles. Would it have not?
 

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trice

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#2
Theres two aspects that's always seemed somewhat strange to me, the civil war was largely fought using Napoleonic Tactics, however didn't Napoleonic Tactics call for using Cavalry to focus a concentration for the breakthrough? And never seemed really used as such in the CW.

Also as a student of the west and the guerrilla war, what light horse could do with firepower of multiple pistols once they closed the range as at the battle of Centralia, would seem to have had value if had been used on larger scale in bigger battles. Would it have not?
Even in Napoleonic days, breaking formed, solid infantry with cavalry was a difficult trick.

In the Civil War, a lot of things are a little better for the defense. Among them:
  • percussion caps instead of flintlocks (10% less misfires, fire in wet weather)
  • rifles instead of smoothbores (longer range, better accuracy)
  • rifled artillery (longer range)
  • 12-lber Napoleons (best canister cannon of the old days)
On the attacking side, the above made it tougher to successfully carry through a traditional cavalry charge.

In addition, a traditional massed cavalry shock charge needs 600 yards of open, unobstructed space to work-up. In rough terms, a cavalry commander would traditionally want to lead his formation 200 yards at a walk, 200 yards at a trot and 200 yards at a gallop to hit the enemy defense. That's a very wide and long open space that I don't think you will usually find in ACW battlefields. If you do have a space, the slightly increased firepower above means that you will probably take additional casualties, perhaps further out, or perhaps more volleys, or face more defensive fire simply because more of the defenders can reach you. More casualties mean an already difficult task got harder.

In addition, it takes a long time to train cavalry (men and horses) to the degree of discipline and co-ordination needed to make a cavalry charge a success. European armies maintained large systems of horse farms to breed and train cavalry mounts in peacetime. Even then, with experienced cavalrymen as cadres and trainers, it would take 1-to-2 years to turn a raw recruit into an efficient cavalryman (2 years usually meant a lancer). Union and Confederate cavalry were nowhere near that standard on training or quality of horses and men.

To see an example of how bad this can go wrong, take a look at the Battle of New Market in 1864. At one point late in the battle, Sigel's cavalry is making exactly the sort of picture-perfect charge that Napoleonic advocates would want. There is a hole in the Confederate center and Stahel's cavalry division is charging for it. Defensive firepower and a bottleneck (bridge over a creek) resulted in their repulse, but Union officers watching the start of the charge were sure the day was won. Sigel's army barely escaped in the Confederate victory.

There are, however, some very nice examples to look at in Sheridan's actions at 3rd Winchester and Cedar Creek. They generally work because of superior Union numbers, allowing the Union to hit weak parts of the Confederate lines with overwhelming numbers, or out-maneuver the infantry in the open.
 

67th Tigers

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#3
Theres two aspects that's always seemed somewhat strange to me, the civil war was largely fought using Napoleonic Tactics, however didn't Napoleonic Tactics call for using Cavalry to focus a concentration for the breakthrough? And never seemed really used as such in the CW.

Also as a student of the west and the guerrilla war, what light horse could do with firepower of multiple pistols once they closed the range as at the battle of Centralia, would seem to have had value if had been used on larger scale in bigger battles. Would it have not?
Caracoling with pistols was a generally bad tactic.

By 1864 Federal cavalry had become truly "Napoleonic" in the sense that they did make massed charges with the sabre, and they consistently overthrew rebel pistol wielding cavalry and even entrenched infantry.
 
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#4
Also as a student of the west and the guerrilla war, what light horse could do with firepower of multiple pistols once they closed the range as at the battle of Centralia, would seem to have had value if had been used on larger scale in bigger battles. Would it have not?
I believe you are absolutely correct. I have often wondered why mounted militias were not equipped this way. I've also wondered about "border" outposts, such as the fort at Baxter Springs. The army most certainly knew those guys might have to face Missouri guerrillas. They also knew of the guerrilla's superior fire power in a typical fight. Why didn't they equip their troops accordingly? Stupid, ponderous, governmental bureaucracy is the only answer I can come up with.
 
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#5
I believe you are absolutely correct. I have often wondered why mounted militias were not equipped this way. I've also wondered about "border" outposts, such as the fort at Baxter Springs. The army most certainly knew those guys might have to face Missouri guerrillas. They also knew of the guerrilla's superior fire power in a typical fight. Why didn't they equip their troops accordingly? Stupid, ponderous, governmental bureaucracy is the only answer I can come up with.
Somethings never changed until now
 

archieclement

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#6
Caracoling with pistols was a generally bad tactic.

By 1864 Federal cavalry had become truly "Napoleonic" in the sense that they did make massed charges with the sabre, and they consistently overthrew rebel pistol wielding cavalry and even entrenched infantry.
guess that's another thing that's seemed odd to me, but would have thought the time to have used massed Cav would have been early in the war instead of late, when the shock value of massed horse would have had more an effect on infantry who hadn't seen the elephant yet
 

major bill

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#7
Well one thing is that US cavalry were not well trained. To be effective cavalry would take years of training. You have to have officers and NCOs with years of experience in the use of mass cavalry. Being able to ride a horse and shoot a pistol does not mean you are a good cavalryman. By European standards the US cavalry were poorly trained and not overly well lead.

I am not saying cavalry officers were stupid, just that they did not have as much experience as many European cavalry officers.
 

Saphroneth

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#8
Even in Napoleonic days, breaking formed, solid infantry with cavalry was a difficult trick.
The keywords there are "formed" and "solid". My understanding is that our impression of the formidability of a square is actually exaggerated in English historiography because most of the time the square being attacked in English language sources is a British one - and British troops were among the most solid of the Napoleonic era, because of their long training times compared to continental troops.

By the standards of the British Napoleonic troops, most American infantry even mid-Civil War is militia. (That's no huge insult, the best of the militia could basically transfer direct to the Guards, but it means they're not necessarily at the quality that a square has the mettle to resist well-mounted cavalry.) The real impediment to shock cavalry action in the Civil War is that the cavalry was not very good either.

There's an account of a British engineer officer demonstrating that the Union (in 1862, at least) had no idea what cavalry was capable of, when he was inspecting one of the Washington forts and then told them it wasn't very good. To demonstrate, he borrowed a horse and charged right up the slope without any trouble - shocking the American troops in the fort!

Captain Edward Osborne Hewett, Royal Engineers (Veteran of the Crimea, former commanding engineer in the West Indies, and assistant instructor at the Royal Military Academy):

“These works are not particularly well placed, nor is the design of much good. Many are too small to be of any real service, and although manned by some 80,000 men, I believe good troops would very shortly force them. The Confederates are not, however, good enough for this… several portions of their lines could be taken not only by good infantry, but by a sudden dash of _well mounted cavalry_. However, there is good excuse for this for a great portion of the works were hurriedly thrown up by civilians- I could not help pointing this out to the chief of the staff, and at last he acknowledged I was right especially after I had ridden one of his own cavalry man’s horses (I think the worst saddle for any real riding) clear over the ditch, and parapet charged in amongst his men who were absolutely aghast at the idea of cavalry charging even the slightest obstacle.”
 

thomas aagaard

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#9
Theres two aspects that's always seemed somewhat strange to me, the civil war was largely fought using Napoleonic Tactics, however didn't Napoleonic Tactics call for using Cavalry to focus a concentration for the breakthrough? And never seemed really used as such in the CW.
First of all Napoleonic tactics was not used.
There was no wide spread use of skirmishers.(until very late in the war) No general use columns for attacks, No proper combined arms with cavalry, infantry and artillery working closely together...

It require well trained soldiers, commanders and proper battlefield cavalry... and open fields.
all was lacking... One simple reason is that it take time to train units to this level and it take a lot of institutional knowledge to train units effectively. Two years is often mentioned as a minimum. Prussian infantry served for 3 years. Four in cavalry and guards... And that is with professional nco's and officers.

This knowledge was simply not there in 1861 because of the tiny size of the US army. So the armies was mostly organized and trained by civilians with no real knowledge of what they where doing.
Grants army as Shiloh is a great example. Just about every officer at the brigade level and down was civilians turn soldier... with no previous military experience...
And with this in mind, I actually think both sides did one Edited. of a job organizing armies of 50.000+ men, and learning not only the drill and tactics but also everything else that is needed to get armies to function...
 

DixieRifles

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#10
By 1863, the Cavalry in the West fought mainly as mounted infantry armed with rifles. They moved fast and could delivery impressive fire power. Fighting dismounted expended some if their manpower due to need for horse holders. This type of unit didnt require any specialized large formation movements.
Take a close look at Battle of Brices Crossroads.
 

trice

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#11
The keywords there are "formed" and "solid". My understanding is that our impression of the formidability of a square is actually exaggerated in English historiography because most of the time the square being attacked in English language sources is a British one - and British troops were among the most solid of the Napoleonic era, because of their long training times compared to continental troops.
Yes, I put the words "formed" and "solid" in on purpose. Squares were the standard defensive formation against cavalry because they protected against cavalry hitting the open flank of a line, but solid infantry could face cavalry in line if their flanks were secure.

There seems to be a little pride-in-being-British there. You'll have trouble finding examples of, say, French or Swiss squares being broken by cavalry charges. There were ways to attack squares (sharp cavalry usually tried to hit a corner, and having a dead or wounded horse tumble into the square helped). Wet weather was a big help because it let cavalry work in close easier and lancers in wet weather would almost surely destroy a square if not driven off. (Note that the widespread introduction of percussion caps chopped down the wet-weather advantage.)

By the standards of the British Napoleonic troops, most American infantry even mid-Civil War is militia. (That's no huge insult, the best of the militia could basically transfer direct to the Guards, but it means they're not necessarily at the quality that a square has the mettle to resist well-mounted cavalry.) The real impediment to shock cavalry action in the Civil War is that the cavalry was not very good either.

There's an account of a British engineer officer demonstrating that the Union (in 1862, at least) had no idea what cavalry was capable of, when he was inspecting one of the Washington forts and then told them it wasn't very good. To demonstrate, he borrowed a horse and charged right up the slope without any trouble - shocking the American troops in the fort!

Captain Edward Osborne Hewett, Royal Engineers (Veteran of the Crimea, former commanding engineer in the West Indies, and assistant instructor at the Royal Military Academy):

“These works are not particularly well placed, nor is the design of much good. Many are too small to be of any real service, and although manned by some 80,000 men, I believe good troops would very shortly force them. The Confederates are not, however, good enough for this… several portions of their lines could be taken not only by good infantry, but by a sudden dash of _well mounted cavalry_. However, there is good excuse for this for a great portion of the works were hurriedly thrown up by civilians- I could not help pointing this out to the chief of the staff, and at last he acknowledged I was right especially after I had ridden one of his own cavalry man’s horses (I think the worst saddle for any real riding) clear over the ditch, and parapet charged in amongst his men who were absolutely aghast at the idea of cavalry charging even the slightest obstacle.”
That's a good story and I am not surprised that garrison troops without field experience were surprised by it.

It was in 1859, after observing the Austro-French War in Italy, that Helmut von Moltke came to the conclusion that rifled infantry weapons had made the cavalry much more vulnerable and their tasks therefore much more difficult.

There are only two examples I recall of Civil War troops forming square:
  1. Sherman after Bull Run
  2. Confederate infantry on the 1st day at Gettysburg
 
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thomas aagaard

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#12
There where about a handful of formed and steady squares that was broken during the Napoleonic wars.
From memory:
The British (or more correct KGL) broke two in a few minutes in spain. The french infantry gave them a volley at too close range, dead horses crashed into the square and made an opening...and some of them rote into it.
With the the next square the same happens, or maybe some of the infantry, seeing the first one get slaughters broke...
(Read it in "charge! - Great cavalry charges of the Napoleonic wars" by Digby Smith)

During the 2nd sleswig war the danish army pulled back from its defensive line as Dannevirke to the north.
The Austrians who made the presuite did so very well and actually get praised in a number of danish sources.
They found some wagons and "mounted" infantry on them, then the cavalry and horse artillery went after the danish army.

Since the danes where marching up a road forming a line was really not that practical, so they marched in a column in close distance and then formed square when the Austrian cavalry got close. Then their horse artillery opened up forcing the danes to spread out.... then the cavalry rode close... Textbook tactics as it is called in one danish source.
Not that it caused a lot of casualties, but it slowed down the danish, allowing some the Austrian infantry (jägers) to catch up...(thanks to the use of wagons, much faster than they would if they had to walk and just as important, less tired) and the danes ended up having to fight a rearguard action to stop the Austrians.
So both battlefield cavalry and the square formation did have its place.
 

trice

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#13
There where about a handful of formed and steady squares that was broken during the Napoleonic wars.
From memory:
The British (or more correct KGL) broke two in a few minutes in spain. The french infantry gave them a volley at too close range, dead horses crashed into the square and made an opening...and some of them rote into it.
With the the next square the same happens, or maybe some of the infantry, seeing the first one get slaughters broke...
(Read it in "charge! - Great cavalry charges of the Napoleonic wars" by Digby Smith)

During the 2nd sleswig war the danish army pulled back from its defensive line as Dannevirke to the north.
The Austrians who made the presuite did so very well and actually get praised in a number of danish sources.
They found some wagons and "mounted" infantry on them, then the cavalry and horse artillery went after the danish army.

Since the danes where marching up a road forming a line was really not that practical, so they marched in a column in close distance and then formed square when the Austrian cavalry got close. Then their horse artillery opened up forcing the danes to spread out.... then the cavalry rode close... Textbook tactics as it is called in one danish source.
Not that it caused a lot of casualties, but it slowed down the danish, allowing some the Austrian infantry (jägers) to catch up...(thanks to the use of wagons, much faster than they would if they had to walk and just as important, less tired) and the danes ended up having to fight a rearguard action to stop the Austrians.
So both battlefield cavalry and the square formation did have its place.
There is a book called Swords Around a Throne by John R. Elting that you might find interesting: it covers the army that Napoleon used (officers, French and foreign troops, arms and tactics, etc.) It has an example or two of cavalry breaking squares, IIRR, and I think also an account of the Swiss regiments using the square to march through Russian cavalry in 1812.
 
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#14
Theres two aspects that's always seemed somewhat strange to me, the civil war was largely fought using Napoleonic Tactics, however didn't Napoleonic Tactics call for using Cavalry to focus a concentration for the breakthrough? And never seemed really used as such in the CW.9

Also as a student of the west and the guerrilla war, what light horse could do with firepower of multiple pistols once they closed the range as at the battle of Centralia, would seem to have had value if had been used on larger scale in bigger battles. Would it have not?
Colonel George Kirk commander of the Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry Union certainly thought firepower was vital. Kirk used the proceds of what ever his men appropriated or stole to buy Spencer rifles. The terms appropriate or stole is based on ones political point of view.
In Missouri T.J.Stiles ans Sam Erwin point out that often Union troops and militias lacked sufficient firepower so they suffered more casualties.
I have a thread in the firearms forum where the 1st Missouri Cavalry Regiment equipped with Colt Revolving Rifles drove off a larger group of Confederate guerrillas. I have another thread " how did the MSM kill anyone? " It's kind of amazing that despite inadequate weaponry the Union forces were able to get the upper hand against the Confederate guerrillas in Missouri but they did.
Leftyhunter
 
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trice

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#15
By 1863, the Cavalry in the West fought mainly as mounted infantry armed with rifles. They moved fast and could delivery impressive fire power. Fighting dismounted expended some if their manpower due to need for horse holders. This type of unit didnt require any specialized large formation movements.
Take a close look at Battle of Brices Crossroads.
This change, necessary due to the increasing presence of improved technology, was a major point of contention in military circles from the 1850s to WWI. There were two schools, those who favored mounted action/the shock charge role against those who favored dismounted action/the mounted infantry role.

The Prussians/Germans, the French and the Austrians were generally on the Arme Blanche side, insistent on the mounted shock charge aspect. The British were bitterly split (the more exposure to colonial warfare, the closer to mounted infantry). The Russians adopted the American model (to the point where Cossacks were trained to fight dismounted with the bayonet and a sapper/demolition unit was attached to a cavalry regiment.) The leading cavalry theorist/historian of the day was a Canadian, Lt. Colonel George T. Denison, who tended more toward the mounted infantry side (see Modern Cavalry in 1868 and History of Cavalry in 1877, the winner of the international prize for the best work on Cavalry offered by the Russians).

There was no one moment where the charge went obsolete or mounted infantry became the absolute standard. The change was a process, where the strength of an idea ebbed and flowed, for decades.
 

archieclement

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#16
Well one thing is that US cavalry were not well trained. To be effective cavalry would take years of training. You have to have officers and NCOs with years of experience in the use of mass cavalry. Being able to ride a horse and shoot a pistol does not mean you are a good cavalryman. By European standards the US cavalry were poorly trained and not overly well lead.

I am not saying cavalry officers were stupid, just that they did not have as much experience as many European cavalry officers.
I dont completely disagree with that point.....but it would seem the infantry would have been equally as untrained, not familiar with forming squares...and what I really tend to suspect wouldn't have had the discipline to stand firm as hundreds or a thousand cavalry thundered directly at them.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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#17
I dont completely disagree with that point.....but it would seem the infantry would have been equally as untrained, not familiar with forming squares...and what I really tend to suspect wouldn't have had the discipline to stand firm as hundreds or a thousand cavalry thundered directly at them.
Absolutely agree but it is far easier to train infantry to a specific level - let's use the words 'battle ready' for want of other words than it is to train cavalry to that same 'battle ready' level. Now, while you don't need as much cavalry this all takes time. Over in the Bull Run Forum I am actually looking at something sort of related to this and the fact that McDowell's Union Army of Northeastern Virginia goes in to battle with but seven companies of cavalry - and all of them from the Regular US Army.
 

thomas aagaard

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#18
I dont completely disagree with that point.....but it would seem the infantry would have been equally as untrained, not familiar with forming squares...and what I really tend to suspect wouldn't have had the discipline to stand firm as hundreds or a thousand cavalry thundered directly at them.
Drilling a infantry battalion to an acceptable level can be done in a few weeks, with experienced officers and ncos.
With experienced officers and nco's it take 2+ years to train a new unit of cavalry to an acceptable level.
 

Saphroneth

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#19
I dont completely disagree with that point.....but it would seem the infantry would have been equally as untrained, not familiar with forming squares...and what I really tend to suspect wouldn't have had the discipline to stand firm as hundreds or a thousand cavalry thundered directly at them.
The thing is that it's basically a contest of morale and hesitation.
A cavalryman with a battle trained horse can expect the horse to charge directly at infantry up to the last few yards, but a cavalryman with a conventional (not battle trained) horse will expect the hose to have rather more sense and so need to control the horse quite a lot better.
Meanwhile, a perfectly executed cavalry attack can achieve success if only a few infantrymen waver, but a cavalry attack collapses if the cavalrymen waver even if the infantymen waver as well.

And while I'm at it, a properly executed attack by cavalry doesn't involve a thousand cavalry - it involves two lines abreast. The second is there to fill in the holes caused by casualties in the first, but there's no point having a third line, and that means an attack by a thousand cavalry at once is equivlaent to the frontage of 25 infantry squares - you can't possibly see most of it - and it's not the best use of the cav anyway. The extra numbers is useful mostly in allowing repeated attacks and exploitation.
Making this work, of course, involves drill. And it's complex drill, while the fundamentals of operating in square can be taught in a very short time; Minty knew what he was about as he'd had experience in an army which used shock cavalry, and it took quite a long time to promulgate that skill.
 

trice

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#20
The thing is that it's basically a contest of morale and hesitation.
A cavalryman with a battle trained horse can expect the horse to charge directly at infantry up to the last few yards, but a cavalryman with a conventional (not battle trained) horse will expect the hose to have rather more sense and so need to control the horse quite a lot better.
Meanwhile, a perfectly executed cavalry attack can achieve success if only a few infantrymen waver, but a cavalry attack collapses if the cavalrymen waver even if the infantymen waver as well.

And while I'm at it, a properly executed attack by cavalry doesn't involve a thousand cavalry - it involves two lines abreast. The second is there to fill in the holes caused by casualties in the first, but there's no point having a third line, and that means an attack by a thousand cavalry at once is equivlaent to the frontage of 25 infantry squares - you can't possibly see most of it - and it's not the best use of the cav anyway. The extra numbers is useful mostly in allowing repeated attacks and exploitation.
Making this work, of course, involves drill. And it's complex drill, while the fundamentals of operating in square can be taught in a very short time; Minty knew what he was about as he'd had experience in an army which used shock cavalry, and it took quite a long time to promulgate that skill.
I understand what you are saying here but ... times were a changing.

Military men were waging theoretical battles over the role of cavalry and the impact of the new weapons on tactical usage throughout the period from the 1850s up to WWI. The school of la arme blanche fought furiously with the "mounted infantry" advocates in every military journal of the day. The eventual most-world-famous expert on the use of Cavalry ends up being a Canadian Lt. Colonel named George T. Denison (in 1877, won the word-wide competition for the prize offered by the Grand Duke Nicholas, Inspector-General of the Russian Imperial Cavalry, in 1875); he remained at the top up until WWI and his work is considered essential to anyone studying the use of Cavalry. Denison's 1877 History of Modern Cavalry is cited by Heinz Guderian in his 1937 Acthung - Panzer! (Guderian thought Denison was a visionary far ahead of his time).

The changes in technology made definite changes in the practicality of the common techniques used on the battlefield. The improved reliability, range and accuracy of fire weapons reduced the effectiveness of old-style shock combat methods. Battlefield saber charges by large mass groups of cavalry became harder to manage and successfully execute. Cavalry casualties when exposed to firepower soared.

In his pre-Franco-Prussian War 1869 Instructions to Large Unit Commanders, Helmuth von Moltke stresses how the rise of battlefield firepower has impacted the use of cavalry, making them much more vulnerable and dependent for battlefield success on preparation by the other arms. He cautions his generals on leaving cavalry where they will be unnecessarily exposed to infantry and artillery fire, while still wanting them held close to the front for quick exploitation of battlefield opportunities (an early version of Catch-22, I guess). Von Moltke has been preaching about the supremacy of firepower on the battlefield since he observed the French fighting the Italians in 1859 in Italy; the 1866 Austro-Prussian War experience simply reinforced those lessons in his mind. He still wanted the traditional Cavalry role of mobility and exploitation, but acknowledged that firepower made the cavalry more vulnerable and fragile.

Famed British historian and teacher G. F. R. Henderson toured many Civil War battlefields in Virginia, knew many Confederate generals, and thought that the terrain was clearly unsuited to mass cavalry actions (he also toured many European battlefields of the 1800s and found them much more open and suited to cavalry). A decorated veteran, he later was Kitchener's aide in the Boer War, a major factor in the British victory there, and came away with an even greater respect for the impact of rifle fire on exposed troops. He was more of a "mounted rifles" man, although the British Army was violently split on the la arme blanche/"mounted Rifles" issue, particularly in the period from the Franco-Prussian War to the Boer War.

A few years after the Civil War, Phil Sheridan was an observer at the Battle of Gravelotte in the Franco-Prussian War. Here is an account he gives of a cavalry charge he witnessed there:
But it was now time for the German right to move in earnest to carry the Rozerieulles ridge, on which crest the French had evidently decided to make an obstinate fight to cover their withdrawal to Metz. As the Germans moved to the attack here, the French fire became heavy and destructive, so much so, indeed, as to cause General Von Steinmetz to order some cavalry belonging to the right wing to make a charge. Crossing the ravine before described, this body of horse swept up the slope beyond, the front ranks urged forward by the momentum from behind. The French were posted along a sunken road, behind stone walls and houses, and as the German cavalry neared these obstructions it received a dreadful fire without the least chance of returning it, though still pushed on till the front ranks were crowded into the deep cut of the road. Here the slaughter was terrible, for the horsemen could make no further headway; and because of the blockade behind, of dead and wounded men and animals, an orderly retreat was impossible, and disaster inevitable.
About the time the charge was ordered, the phase of the battle was such that the King concluded to move his headquarters into the village of Gravelotte; and just after getting there, we first learned fully of the disastrous result of the charge which had been entered upon with such spirit; and so much indignation was expressed against Steinmetz, who, it was claimed, had made an unnecessary sacrifice of his cavalry, that I thought he would be relieved on the spot; though this was not done. Followed by a large staff, General Steinmetz appeared in the village presently, and approached the King. When near, he bowed with great respect, and I then saw that he was a very old man, though his soldierly figure, bronzed face, and short-cropped hair gave some evidence of vigor still. When the King spoke to him I was not close enough to learn what was said ; but his Majesty's manner was expressive of kindly feeling, and the fact that in a few moments the veteran general returned to the command of his troops, indicated that, for the present at least, his fault had been overlooked.
On the next day, Sheridan passed over that ground:
Breakfast over, the Chancellor invited me to accompany him in a ride to the battle-field, and I gladly accepted, as I very much desired to pass over the ground in front of Gravelotte, particularly so to see whether the Krupp guns had really done the execution that was claimed for them by the German artillery officers. Going directly through the village of Gravelotte, following the causeway over which the German cavalry had passed to make its courageous but futile charge, we soon reached the ground where the fighting had been the most severe. Here the field was literally covered with evidences of the terrible strife, the dead and wounded strewn thick on every side.
In the sunken road the carnage had been awful; men and horses having been slaughtered there by hundreds, helpless before the murderous fire delivered from behind a high stone wall impracticable to mounted troops. The sight was sickening to an extreme, and we were not slow to direct our course elsewhere, going up the glacis toward the French line, the open ground over which we crossed being covered with thousands of helmets, that had been thrown off by the Germans during the fight and were still dotting the field, though details of soldiers from the organizations which had been engaged here were about to begin to gather up their abandoned headgear.

Later, near Sedan, Sheridan witnessed another cavalry action:
After a severe fight, the Crown Prince drove the French through Floing, and as the ground between this village and Sedan is an undulating, open plain, everywhere visible, there was then offered a rare opportunity for seeing the final conflict preceding the surrender. Presently up out of the little valley where Floing is located came the Germans, deploying just on the rim of the plateau a very heavy skirmish-line, supported by a line of battle at close distance. When these skirmishers appeared, the French infantry had withdrawn within its intrenched lines, but a strong body of their cavalry, already formed in a depression to the right of the Floing road, now rode at the Germans in gallant style, going clear through the dispersed skirmishers to the main line of battle. Here the slaughter of the French was awful, for in addition to the deadly volleys from the solid battalions of their enemies, the skirmishers, who had rallied in knots at advantageous places, were now delivering a severe and effective fire. The gallant horsemen, therefore, had to retire precipitately, but re-forming in the depression, they again undertook the hopeless task of breaking the German infantry, making in all four successive charges. Their ardor and pluck were of no avail, however, for the Germans, growing stronger every minute by the accession of troops from Floing, met the fourth attack in such large force that, even before coming in contact with their adversaries, the French broke and retreated to the protection of the intrenchments, where, from the beginning of the combat, had been lying plenty of idle infantry, some of which at least, it seemed plain to me, ought to have been thrown into the fight. This action was the last one of consequence around Sedan, for, though with the contraction of the German lines their batteries kept cannonading more or less, and the rattle of musketry continued to be heard here and there, yet the hard fighting of the day practically ended on the plateau of Floing.

Sorry to be so long. The point is not that a successful cavalry charge against infantry had become impossible. The point is that a successful cavalry charge against infantry had become more difficult and perilous, making it a bad choice in more and more situations.

This is the result of development of new technology, starting with the percussion cap and progressing through the Minie rifle to the bolt-action rifle, to include rifled artillery and the introduction of the Krupp breech-loading artillery by the time of the Franco-Prussian War. It is the mass deployment of these weapons that causes the impact to be effective. Repeaters and magazine-rifles, machine-guns, etc. increase the impact, but before they are deployed to the mass of the armies fighting their impact will always be erratic and minimized by their scarcity. (This is why you can find specific examples of how repeaters made a big impact in particular parts of battles in the Civil War -- but also why they did not have a large impact of the war as a whole: they were used by only a small part of the troops fighting.)

Trivia: I have a friend, third-generation West Point on both sides of his family, who had a grandfather serving with the 26th US Cavalry in the Philippines in 1941. The other day I saw a post from him featuring a painting of the regiment's mounted charge at Morong, the last in US history, during the retreat to Bataan. In the painting, the troopers of the 26th seem to be using .45 automatics. His grandfather on that side was on Corrigedor by then, survived the Death March, but was killed when US planes sunk a ship transporting POWs to Japan in 1944; the grandfather on the other side was with a Tank Destroyer unit at Kasserine Pass in 1943 and finished the war invading the south of France and coming up into Germany. His father served in Vietnam. My friend did his service in Germany, IIRR, and is a bit of a cavalry nut.:Ghost:
 
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