Union/Confederate Regular Cavalry Tactics queries

Garnet Joe

Cadet
Joined
Aug 4, 2017
Messages
12
Hello,

I am wondering if you could put me right/affirm some of my impressions of Civil War cavalry tactics in the East:
As I understand it from reading bits of Henderson and Griffith, with a few others, shock cavalry was a rarity and there were few charges, with small ones like at Brandy Station or the cavalry fields at Gettysburg, what we may say were cavalry actions, clearly, though with mounted infantry/dragoon-like tactics also seen. Now, my understanding is that under Sheridan Union cavalry in 64 and 65 functioned mostly as 'true' cavalry, for shock, but also kind of like dragoons, to seize a flank in advance of infantry- as a kind of all-arms flanking force? The latter is how I understand it from Griffith, though Henderson seems to infer that former tactics were also employed. (It's quite likely I have misunderstood, so I thank you for your patience)
 

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Garnet Joe

Cadet
Joined
Aug 4, 2017
Messages
12
On the one hand, I have Henderson:
Henderson said:
Great cavalry combats, in which both sides rode at each other, were far more frequent than in any of the European campaigns referred to above; and the instance of cavalry charging infantry are so numerous as completely to disprove the common belief that the American horsemen were merely mounted infantry. The truth is that the Americans struck the true balance between shock and dismounted tactics. They were prepared for both, as the ground and the situation demanded; and, more than this, they used fire and l'arme blanche in the closest and most effective combination, against both cavalry and infantry.
On the other;
Griffith said:
The participation of cavalry in the major battles of the Civil War was generally negligible and we could have found plenty of excuse for leaving it out of this study altogether....In all we can estimate that perhaps 1,400 Union cavalrymen in the East had the experience of charging Rebel infantry in a major battle during the first three years of the war, suffering 365 casualties or approximately a quarter of their strength....no serious attempt was really made to use cavalry in these battles at all, even where the ground was favourable.
Griffith also points out doctrinal resistance to battle cavalry - and the general American preference for light cavalry duties - screening, scouting, etc.
 

BillO

Captain
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
6,405
Location
Quinton, VA.
I'm not Eric but IMO Henderson is perhaps closer to the truth of it.
Griffith is largely correct in stating that cavalry wasn't used in charges much "in large battles". although they were instrumental in the pre and post battle actions. Scouting and screening are important.
 
Joined
May 1, 2015
Messages
8,816
Location
Upstate N.Y.
Hello,

I am wondering if you could put me right/affirm some of my impressions of Civil War cavalry tactics in the East:
As I understand it from reading bits of Henderson and Griffith, with a few others, shock cavalry was a rarity and there were few charges, with small ones like at Brandy Station or the cavalry fields at Gettysburg, what we may say were cavalry actions, clearly, though with mounted infantry/dragoon-like tactics also seen. Now, my understanding is that under Sheridan Union cavalry in 64 and 65 functioned mostly as 'true' cavalry, for shock, but also kind of like dragoons, to seize a flank in advance of infantry- as a kind of all-arms flanking force? The latter is how I understand it from Griffith, though Henderson seems to infer that former tactics were also employed. (It's quite likely I have misunderstood, so I thank you for your patience)
Welcome, enjoy
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Messages
3,553
The arme blanche was initially regarded poorly amongst the cavalry. Then an ex-British regular named Robert Minty, who had risen to command a cavalry brigade in the Cumberland theatre, had his brigade conduct several successful charges with the sabre.

Griffith studied 1861-3. By 1864 the quality of the Federal cavalry had risen to the point where they could conduct proper sabre charges. At 3rd Winchester there is a full on charge by the Federal cavalry that Napoleonic cuirassiers would have been proud to put in.

The rebels for their part complained about the Federals and their "superior weapons" (i.e. sabres) but never really matched them.
 

Eric Wittenberg

2nd Lieutenant
Keeper of the Scales
Joined
Jun 2, 2013
Messages
3,443
Location
Columbus, OH
The terrain of the eastern theater was, for the most part, not conducive to much in the way of Napoleonic cavalry charges. There were a few:
  • 5th US cavalry at Gaine's Mill 1862
  • 1st PA Cavalry at Cedar Mountain 1862
  • Farnsworth's Charge, Gettysburg 1863
Having said that, a five brigade charge by the Union cavalry rolled up the Confederate flank at Third Winchester and sent Early's army "whirling through Winchester" as a Confederate officer later said. The decisive blow was also struck by a mass Union cavalry charge at the climax of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. Both were classic examples of Napoleonic cavalry charges, and in both instances, they were the decisive blow.
 

Garnet Joe

Cadet
Joined
Aug 4, 2017
Messages
12
Gentlemen, my thanks again.
Just to clarify I take it then that by the end of the war cavalry in the east was performing three broad roles quite competently;
1. Scouting, screening, etc.
2. Charges -
3. A sort of high-mobile tactical light/mounted-infantry role moving in advance of infantry:

Griffith said:
Sheridan insisted that [cavalry] be kept with the army of the Potomac and used for a truly decisive purpose. He saw his role as prolonging the army's left flank, to force Lee to abandon his positions...rather than as simply making a sweep...... cavalry could add considerable extra zest and impetus to the normal operations of infantry. The high mobility of horsemen allowed them an extra freedom on the battlefield...Even if they did not arrive at the key point with the 'mostest' combat power, the cavalry could at least get there 'fustest'. This made a magnificent multiplier of the infantry's natural force , so that when used in conjunction the two arms became far more formidable......
Emphasis added as I understand this is primarily a tactical, rather than ops function?
 


Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top