Duties of a Pvt. In a Cavalry Unit

jeffobryant

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I recently learned that my great-great-grandfather served in the 10th Tenn. Cavalry and, according to pension records (if I'm making out the handwriting correctly), was a pvt. My impression is that cavalry units were made up of officers... at least if you were riding a horse. So I hope that this thread will provide me with further info on the makeup of cavalry units and, specifically, what a pvt. would be expected to do in battle, in camp, and on the march, etc. Thanks!
 
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Rhea Cole

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Cavalry troopers kept care of their horses & drilled while in camp. The horse ate before they did. Duties included endless hours out in all weather escorting supply trains or posted in small groups as vedettes. Saber drill was hard & often. It took two years to properly train a cavalry trooper. That is why in 1863 Union cavalry in the West overtook their CSA counterparts.

It is often remarked on how many Union cavalry regiments were raised in cities. It was believed that country boys joined the army to get away from tending horses & city boys had read too much Sir Walter Scott. Make of that what you will.
 

jeffobryant

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Thank you, Rhea- I appreciate your response. And, to be clear, even as a pvt. he could have had a horse and fought in cavalry engagements? Thank you again!
 
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Yes, he would have.. Both Union and Confederate armies had a 10th Tennessee Cavalry.
A trooper in the Confederate cavalry supplied his own horse, the Union supplied horses to their troopers.
Remember most of the people in the unit were Privates, if the unit was engaged it was the Privates doing the engagement. Some companies of the 10th Tenn Cav. were raised a few miles from were I live.
Most of my ancestors entered and ended the war as Privates. Just to survive the war was enough.
 

nc native

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Cavalry troopers kept care of their horses & drilled while in camp. The horse ate before they did. Duties included endless hours out in all weather escorting supply trains or posted in small groups as vedettes. Saber drill was hard & often. It took two years to properly train a cavalry trooper. That is why in 1863 Union cavalry in the West overtook their CSA counterparts.

It is often remarked on how many Union cavalry regiments were raised in cities. It was believed that country boys joined the army to get away from tending horses & city boys had read too much Sir Walter Scott. Make of that what you will.

Not only did cavalry troopers take care of their own horses, they were sometimes required to leave their unit and find another horse when they were in short supply. One of my 3x great grand uncles served in the 4th NC Cavalry and when I reviewed his roster cards he spent at least two months looking for a mount in 1862 away from his unit. I am curious if this was common practice? If troopers had to leave their units for months looking for a horse to replace one that was lost that seems like it would be quite a drain on manpower available for duty. The ancestor I am speaking of was named Ceborne Farmer who was a private with the 4th NC Cavalry.
He was captured during the fighting during Lee's retreat from Gettysburg at Falling Waters, Maryland. He did survive prison and the war.
 

WJC

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I recently learned that my great-great-grandfather served in the 10th Tenn. Cavalry and, according to pension records (if I'm making out the handwriting correctly), was a pvt. My impression is that cavalry units were made up of officers... at least if you were riding a horse. So I hope that this thread will provide me with further info on the makeup of cavalry units and, specifically, what a pvt. would be expected to do in battle, in camp, and on the march, etc. Thanks!
Have you checked Internet Archive (https://archive.org/) to see if they have any books about Tenth Tennessee Cavalry? If so there will probably be muster records showing the Regiment's organization and the rank of each soldier.
A Cavalry regiment was composed of Companies (later renamed "Troops") just as in Infantry units and commanded by officers of similar rank.
Two significant differences from Infantry: each regiment had a Blacksmith; there was a herd of horses accompanying regiments. Cavalry Divisions included supporting 'Flying Batteries' of Artillery.
As to the duties of a Cavalryman, his first responsibility was caring for his mount. When not in the field, drills took up much of his remaining day. If his horse was killed or injured so that it could not continue, the Cavalryman walked until he found a replacement.
As you know, one of our long-time members is author @Eric Wittenberg, who 'specializes' in Cavalry. He will probably join in this discussion soon with far more information than I can offer.
Good luck in your search!
 

DixieRifles

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My impression is that cavalry units were made up of officers... at least if you were riding a horse.
The Cavalry regiment was organized very similar to Infantry regiments. Each company was commanded by a Captain and two Lieutenants. They also had 2 or 3 sergeants. The rest of the company were PRIVATES.
I should know but Im not sure the regulation size and makeup of a cavalry unit— mainly because most Confederate cavalry regiments were undermanned.
The cavalry had some special troops such as blacksmith and bugler. But every cavalryman had the bushes and equipment to cars and feed their mount.

My Gr-Gr-Grandfather was a private in the cavalry. I had two other ancestors who were privates.

One more thing, the cavalry did not always fight on horseback. By mid-War, the cavalry man had rid himself of his saber and sometimes their pistol. The cavalry were armed with rifles and the rode their horse to the battle and fought dismounted.
It reminds me of the Air Cavalry units during Vietnam War who “rode” to battle on Hueys. Their helo’s were painted with the Crossed Sabers of of the Cavalry.
 

DixieRifles

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Here is a Casualty List for the Battle of Tishomingo Creek, aka, Brices' Crossroads.
This page starts with the casualties of the 18th Mississippi CAVALRY---as all of these units were cavalry or artillery.

This page picks up with Company "H" and then begins list for Company "I".
"Priv" denotes those who are Privates.

Casualties.JPG
 
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@nc native - yep in many cases they were sent back home to find a replacement horse. Solders then were like solders now - smart! Some purposely injured their horse to get the covenant leave early in the war. As mounts got harder to find Lee put a stop to that practice by transferring them to infantry and if they were able to find a horse they were permitted back in the cavalry
 

Yankee Brooke

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@nc native - yep in many cases they were sent back home to find a replacement horse. Solders then were like solders now - smart! Some purposely injured their horse to get the covenant leave early in the war. As mounts got harder to find Lee put a stop to that practice by transferring them to infantry and if they were able to find a horse they were permitted back in the cavalry
I like to tell people at events that I was transferred to the infantry because I lost my horse. lol
 

Yankee Brooke

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Shot out from underneath you. You were lucky to make it!
I'm lucky, I almost lost a few toes!

It was often the same for artillery units who lost their guns. They were transferred to the infantry until the gun could be replaced. Late in the war that didn't happen for many Confederates, and so there were quite a few grumbling artillerists toting muskets. I assume it may have been similar for cavalry, as they were increasingly hard pressed to find a new mount, since good horses were becoming increasingly scarce.
 
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I'm lucky, I almost lost a few toes!

It was often the same for artillery units who lost their guns. They were transferred to the infantry until the gun could be replaced. Late in the war that didn't happen for many Confederates, and so there were quite a few grumbling artillerists toting muskets. I assume it may have been similar for cavalry, as they were increasingly hard pressed to find a new mount, since good horses were becoming increasingly scar
Hopefully they were able to get a functioning musket and a full cartridge box!
 

Yankee Brooke

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Hopefully they were able to get a functioning musket and a full cartridge box!
Not a guarantee, even for the original infantryman...late war Confederacy is a really interesting topic to me, to be sure.

I believe most cavalry troopers slept with the horse's reins tied around their wrist, like a leash, so that the horse couldn't run off without waking him up....not sure if that's true though.
 
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Southern cavalry rarely fought dismounted in the early years of the war, because they could generally drive their opponents from the field without leaving the saddle. If a CSA cavalry trooper lost his horse, he was given leave to find another. But the term of that leave was limited. If he could not find a mount in that term, he was relegated to the infantry. However, as Federal cavalry became more expert at fighting on horseback the advantage of mounted combat for the South decreased, and the Confederate horsemen fought more and more on foot. By June 1863 (Brandy Station) the two forces could be considered equal in their combat potential.

At the time, Alfred Pleasonton commanded the Federal cavalry attached to the Army of the Potomac. It was Pleasonton's cavalry that had surprised Stuart's men at Brandy Station, where troops were massing to screen Lee's Army as it headed north into Pennsylvania. The somewhat confused and indecisive character of the encounters at Aldie, Goose Creek, Middleburg, and Upperville helps to define the constant nature of cavalry warfare outside the largest battles (June 19 - 21). On 21 June (the longest day of the year), Federal cavalry, buoyed by their recent success, made a more determined effort to pierce Stuart's cavalry screen. Stuart's rear guard established artillery positions on the western ridge overlooking Goose Creek to cut off the Federal cavalry. After furious mounted fighting, Stuart withdrew his cavalry corps to take a strong defensive position in Ashby Gap, an important mountain pass. After a few short hours, Federal infantry was able to rush the western ridge and repel the Confederate artillery with support from the cavalry units crossing the bridge. The firing sputtered out with nothing gained. The following day the Federals withdrew east of Middleburg. As the cavalry skirmishing in the gap diminished, the Army of Northern Virginia safely crossed the Potomac into Maryland and headed toward Pennsylvania.

This series of sharp actions that ended at Upperville, sandwiched between the massive cavalry action at Brandy Station and the magnitude of Gettysburg, were significant at the time, but are now generally overlooked by historians. Stuart's men had fought and disengaged at Aldie and Middleburg, refusing to be drawn into a pitched battle. When considered together, the battles around Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville represent some of the largest and costliest cavalry actions of the Civil War. These vicious battles cost Stuart roughly 600 casualties and Pleasonton around 900. By comparison this 1,500 casualties equates to roughly the same losses as suffered at Brandy Station (1,403 combined casualties), which is considered the largest mounted battle of the war.

Yet Blue and Grey troopers clashed almost daily in much smaller affairs typical of mounted service, occasionally killing or wounding a man or horse. Such duty was tedious, nerve-wracking, and very hard on both men and horses. Cavalrymen faced this form of small war, or petite guerre, more often than their comrades in the infantry or artillery. Hours spent sitting picket duty on a horse in the dark, on a lonely road waiting to be attacked by a lurking enemy, fell far short of the gallant cavalry charges portrayed in the schoolbooks and romantic novels of the next century.

A cavalry officer attempted to explain to those unfamiliar with cavalry mounts the hardships suffered during cavalry service. “You have no idea of their suffering [the horses]. An officer of cavalry needs to be more horse-doctor than soldier … You are a slave to your horses, you work like a dog yourself, and you exact the most extreme care from your sergeants, and you see diseases creeping on you day by day and your horses breaking down under your eyes, and you have two resources, one to send them to the reserve camps at the rear and so strip yourself of your command, and the other to force them on until they drop and then run for luck that you will be able to steal horses to remount your men … We swipe the first horse we come to and put the dismounted man on his back.”

After Second Manassas, Generals Bayard and Buford reported that there were not five horses to the company that could be forced into a trot. (Gen.) David Gregg later noted: “With some exceptions, whatever care was given the horses, was at such times as best suited the convenience of the individual trooper, and as the horses generally stood in mud to their knees, unless their masters were prompted by exceptionally humane feelings, the intervals between feedings and watering were distressingly long. In many of the regiments … their condition was the worst possible.”[ii] At one point in this campaign, the horses of the 1st Rhode Island "were not unsaddled for one hundred and four hours; were without food for sixty-four hours; and without water thirty-seven hours." In the winter of 1862-3, with a wide rivers separating the armies and the roads two feet deep in mud, slush and water, the horses of the 1st Massachusetts, then on picket duty, remained saddled for fifteen consecutive days and nights and died by dozens of exposure and starvation.

These actions introduced new dimensions to the use of cavalry in warfare that were plain to those who were participants. Among these were the value of combined arms operations, the concept of a covering force, and the use of dismounted cavalry. Certainly these tactics had been included in the cavalry manuals of the day, but up to this point they had not been prominent among those chosen for use by cut and slash cavalry commanders.
[From my own book - don't get bent.]




https://civilwartalk.com/#_ednref1 Krepps, 34.
[ii] David M. Gregg, B&L.
 
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Carronade

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If a CSA cavalry trooper lost his horse, he was given leave to find another. But the term of that leave was limited.
Thanks, I was just going to ask about that. I could see potential for abuse if a man was allowed to go home for as long as it "took him" to find a new horse.

While searching for a new mount, could a trooper draw pay or rations from the government? Or did he have to support himself in addition to acquiring a horse?
 
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