Two Random Questions

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Happy new year! Two random thoughts.
1) When repelling a cavalry charge, were infantry taught to aim for horses, or for the rider?
2) Is it true that a horse will not charge into a soldier with a bayonet out, and will throw the rider?

Mike
 

zburkett

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 21, 2015
Location
Orange County, Virginia
One, most units did not practice that much marksmanship so it was up to the individual. Some Commanders probably did order shoot the horses. Two, a horse can be as dumb as its rider so it might charge a bayonet. Mules not so much. Other horses will spook from almost anything. It would depend on the horse. It would be unusual for a Cavalry Man to charge into a line of bayonets. They would by nature try the flanks. Another point, the massed cavalry charge against infantry in formation (as in John Wayne) was not normal. In that case cavalry would probably fight dismounted.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
One, most units did not practice that much marksmanship so it was up to the individual. Some Commanders probably did order shoot the horses. Two, a horse can be as dumb as its rider so it might charge a bayonet. Mules not so much. Other horses will spook from almost anything. It would depend on the horse. It would be unusual for a Cavalry Man to charge into a line of bayonets. They would by nature try the flanks. Another point, the massed cavalry charge against infantry in formation (as in John Wayne) was not normal. In that case cavalry would probably fight dismounted.

Thanks for the post. Am I missing something, or is shooting the horses 10x more effective than aiming for the rider? One, the rider probably gets trampled anyway and two, you can create a dozen more spills?

An infantry reenactor years ago told me the horse would throw its rider, when demonstrating anti-cavalry tactics, was always curious if it was true or not.
 

redbob

Major
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Location
Hoover, Alabama
Since Napoleonic War days, Infantry forming a square was the response to cavalry attacking infantry. However, this took a great deal of practice and placed the grouped infantry in danger of being struck by artillery.
Infantry Square #2.jpg
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Since Napoleonic War days, Infantry forming a square was the response to cavalry attacking infantry. However, this took a great deal of practice and placed the grouped infantry in danger of being struck by artillery.View attachment 340800

cool. i never saw a civil war photo in square.

i remember the magnificent scene from the Waterloo movie from the 70s. Now that was epic filmmaking!
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
That is a great picture of a square formation. That leads me to ask, how often or not was such a formation used in the ACW?
 

zburkett

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 21, 2015
Location
Orange County, Virginia
MickeyB, I don't doubt that in a reenactment or in a battle there would e a horse that would throw a rider during a charge. Horses are as individual as people. If a horse went down the rider would still have his equipment so he would still be a combatant. Again, a classic cavalry charge would be much more likely against a supply train than a line of bayonets.
 

redbob

Major
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
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Location
Hoover, Alabama
That is a great picture of a square formation. That leads me to ask, how often or not was such a formation used in the ACW?
I have read of attempts/orders to form square, but I don't believe that I have ever read of them actually being used.
 

Kurt G

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 23, 2018
That is a great picture of a square formation. That leads me to ask, how often or not was such a formation used in the ACW?
It was very rarely used . I think the most noted example was by Pettigrew's Brigade on July 1st at Gettysburg forming or attempting to form a square against a bluff charge by the 8th Illinois .
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
It was very rarely used . I think the most noted example was by Pettigrew's Brigade on July 1st at Gettysburg forming or attempting to form a square against a bluff charge by the 8th Illinois .


Since Napoleonic War days, Infantry forming a square was the response to cavalry attacking infantry. However, this took a great deal of practice and placed the grouped infantry in danger of being struck by artillery.View attachment 340800

If cavalry charges into infantry was a more common tactic during the Napoleonic Wars, what changed in the Civil War that made it an obsolete tactic? Was it rifling and greater ranges to get in a couple more effective volleys before the charge was on you?
 
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Kurt G

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 23, 2018
Cavalry charges against infantry used more routinely in Napoleonic Wars. Was the main reason it wasn't used as often in the Civil War due to rifling and greater ranges?


If cavalry charges into infantry was a more common tactic during the Napoleonic Wars, what changed in the Civil War that made it an obsolete tactic? Was it rifling and greater ranges to get in a couple more effective volleys before the charge was on you?
European armies during the Napoleonic wars had units of heavy cavalry that used large horses and acted as shock troops against infantry and cavalry formations . They also had light cavalry such as Dragoons . US and Confederate cavalry were not generally suitable for heavy cavalry tactics and were often used more as light cavalry . There were many famous cavalry charges during the war and some were against infantry , but these were against relatively weak infantry positions . No doubt the rifled musket gave more range , but there is debate about how much more effective it actually was than smoothbore . The terrain was also a big consideration . During the Civil war there was much less wide open terrain than in Europe .
 
Joined
Mar 2, 2019
Location
Reno, Nevada
From my forthcoming book, which includes the 14th Iowa's participation in the battle at Pleasant Hill, La.:

“We were ordered to fix bayonets,” wrote John Ritland of the Thirty-Second Iowa in 1922, “and those in the front line dropped to their knees with their guns on the ground, while the line behind stood with guns to shoulders ready to press the bayonets home in the horses’ breasts as they charged.”

In that battle, skirmishers opened fire from the cavalry's left as it charged. There are gruesome descriptions of the results, but I didn't find any descriptions of horses reaching the infantrymen and being bayoneted.



 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Cavalry charges against infantry used more routinely in Napoleonic Wars. Was the main reason it wasn't used as often in the Civil War due to rifling and greater ranges?

If cavalry charges into infantry was a more common tactic during the Napoleonic Wars, what changed in the Civil War that made it an obsolete tactic? Was it rifling and greater ranges to get in a couple more effective volleys before the charge was on you?

That's probably the main reason. Also the terrain of many of the major battlefields was not amenable to large-scale charges.

Charging against formed infantry would require the cavalry to maintain a tight formation to strike in mass, picking up the pace as they approached without wearing out their horses by charging too soon, which would probably require more training than most Civil War units had time for. Commanders would probably prefer to use what training time they had on skills they were most likely to use.

Another consequence of longer ranged rifles was that Civil War infantry made more use of terrain, cover, and field fortifications than their predecessors.
 

jackt62

Captain
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Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
It seems to me that the relatively undisciplined volunteer armies in the ACW would have had trouble forming a square if directed under combat conditions. Napoleonic armies generally consisted of regular or professional soldiers who were probably more at ease with the tactic.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The definitive answer on the absence of the infantry square has to do with the relative lethality of Civil War artillery vs Napoleonic. It would have been suicidal to form a square within range of a battery of 12 pound Napoleons.

The reason you don't read of classic Marshall Nye at Waterloo type attacks is the increase in range for both infantry & artillery during the Civil War. A line of horse walked to the 100 yard range of smoothbore muskets. They then went into a gallop & within 30 yards; changed to run in order to hit the opposing force in good order & achieve maximum shock. Attempting that within the 300 yard effective range of rifle toting infantry would have been suicidal.

Horses balk at stepping over bodies as well as smashing into a formed line sprouting bayonets. As a result, European war horses were trained to kick out & leap with viciously flinging hoofs. Needless to say, Civil War cavalry had no time for such old school frivolities.

The vast majority of Civil War cavalry were trained as dragoons. In effect, they were mounted infantry. Buford's command that opened the Battle of Gettysburg was trained to fight dismounted. Wilder's Lightening Brigade took the mounted infantry concept to its logical conclusion. They did not carry sabers; instead they had axes. They even picked the yellow cavalry piping out of the uniforms they were issued.

General Stanley, who was brought in to organize the AoC cavalry was a traditionalist. He insisted on long hours of saber drill. Just how many horses had their ears lopped off, a common saber training occurrence, is not recorded.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
The definitive answer on the absence of the infantry square has to do with the relative lethality of Civil War artillery vs Napoleonic. It would have been suicidal to form a square within range of a battery of 12 pound Napoleons.

The reason you don't read of classic Marshall Nye at Waterloo type attacks is the increase in range for both infantry & artillery during the Civil War. A line of horse walked to the 100 yard range of smoothbore muskets. They then went into a gallop & within 30 yards; changed to run in order to hit the opposing force in good order & achieve maximum shock. Attempting that within the 300 yard effective range of rifle toting infantry would have been suicidal.

Horses balk at stepping over bodies as well as smashing into a formed line sprouting bayonets. As a result, European war horses were trained to kick out & leap with viciously flinging hoofs. Needless to say, Civil War cavalry had no time for such old school frivolities.

The vast majority of Civil War cavalry were trained as dragoons. In effect, they were mounted infantry. Buford's command that opened the Battle of Gettysburg was trained to fight dismounted. Wilder's Lightening Brigade took the mounted infantry concept to its logical conclusion. They did not carry sabers; instead they had axes. They even picked the yellow cavalry piping out of the uniforms they were issued.

General Stanley, who was brought in to organize the AoC cavalry was a traditionalist. He insisted on long hours of saber drill. Just how many horses had their ears lopped off, a common saber training occurrence, is not recorded.
just curious, what was the reason for taking out the yellow piping? was it some type of pride thing- hey we're not cavalry we're infantry?
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
just curious, what was the reason for taking out the yellow piping? was it some type of pride thing- hey we're not cavalry we're infantry?
Wilder’s men were emphatically not cavalrymen. They were mounted infantry. Initially, they carried hatchets instead of sabers. That experiment didn’t last very long, but the espri de corps certainly did.

What Wilder & his men were doing with their Spencer Repeaters were inventing tactics that would inspire military innovation well into the future. They picked out the yellow piping from their uniforms so that there would mistake as to who & what they were.
 
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