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FROM-- SET SEVEN, CIVIL WAR STUDIES
Topic Eighty-two: The Cavalry in the Civil War
CIVIL WAR CAVALRY HORSES, TACK & WEAPONRY
The Cavalry played a pivotal role in the successes of Union and Confederate forces
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A Cavalry Unit
The principal item of equipment for a cavalryman was the horse and one of the reasons both North and South initially hesitated in forming mounted units was because of financial considerations; each cavalry regiment cost $300,000 for initial organization with annual upkeep expenses tallying over $100,000.
Who Pays for the Cavalry Horse?
Both cavalries originally required recruits or local communities to provide horses, a policy that lasted briefly in the North, while the South maintained it throughout the war even though Richmond leaders recognized its serious drawbacks. While Confederate troopers bore the monetary cost of keeping themselves mounted.
Union cavalrymen rode quartermaster issued animals obtained though public contracts (although officers had to reimburse the cost of their mounts to the government). While open to fraud early in the war, once tightened regulations and stringent inspections were enforced, the contract system yielded an estimated 650,000 horses for Union armies during the war exclusive of an additional 75,000 confiscated in Confederate territory.
Guidelines for a Cavalry Horse
Union army guidelines for cavalry horse selection mandated animals be at least 15 hands high, weighing minimally 950 pounds and aged between 4 and 10 years old, and be well-broken to bridle and saddle. Animals were to be dark colors and free from defects such as shallow breathing, deformed hooves, spavin or ringbone. Geldings were preferred for cavalry horses with the purchase of mares strictly prohibited outside absolute military emergency and stallions' volatility and aggressiveness made them generally unsuitable for service.
In the Confederacy, limited horse numbers did not permit such selectivity in trying to keep their armies horsed. Cavalry horse prices varied throughout the war; in 1861 the maximum government price for cavalry horses was $119. However, relentless military demand caused prices to continually increase and by 1865 prices hovered near $190 per head. In the Confederacy horse prices rapidly spiraled upward due to animal scarcity and inflation costing over $3,000 by war's end.
Care and Maintenance of the Horse
The daily feed ration for Union cavalry horses was ten pounds of hay and fourteen pounds of grain which were ample and fulfilled the animals' nutritional needs if of good quality, however, the vagaries of the army supply system did not always insure prescribed forage amounts were delivered where most needed.
Laxity in Care of Horses Common
On both sides volunteer officers often proved notably lax in promoting strict animal welfare, a shortcoming exacerbated by the absence of a trained and organized veterinary corps which allowed serious maladies like strangles, grease heel, farcy, and glanders to spread among army stock. The U.S. Congress finally created the rank of veterinary sergeant in March 1863, but the meager pay and rank held no inducement for qualified candidates to join the army. Repeated calls to establish a professional military veterinary service failed, and widespread waste, suffering, and destruction among army horses resulted; not until 1916 was an official U.S. army veterinary corps founded.
Importance and Excesses in Horse Usage; Appropriating Horses
Horses gave the cavalry forces significant mobility. In some operations, forces were pushed to the limit (such as Jeb Stuart's raid on Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1862, where his troopers marched 80 miles (130 km) in 27 hours). Such excesses were extremely damaging to the readiness of the units and extensive recovery periods were required. Stuart, during the Gettysburg Campaign the following year, resorted to procuring replacement horses from local farmers and townspeople during his grueling trek northward around the Union army. In York County, Pennsylvania, following the Battle of Hanover, his men appropriated well over 1,000 horses from the region. Many of these untrained new mounts proved a hindrance during the subsequent fighting at East Cavalry Field during the battle of Gettysburg.
Calvary Soldier Weaponry
Some mounted forces used traditional infantry rifles. However, cavalrymen, particularly in the North, were frequently armed with three other weapons: