Learning Lincoln On-line
FROM-- SET SEVEN, CIVIL WAR STUDIES
(Topic Eighty-two: The Cavalry in the Civil War)
THE UNION CAVALRY
CIVIL WAR CAVALRY AND ITS HORSES
The U.S. Cavalry played a pivotal role in the successes of Union and Confederate forces. Both sides of the Civil War had great cavalry units. All were led by officers that are still famous for their daring quick fighting and leadership. This resource site, and learning activity will cover cavalry units in the war.
Union Cavalry capture Confederate artillery
The Union started the war with five Regular mounted regiments: the 1st and 2nd U.S. Dragoons, the 1st Mounted Rifles, and the 1st and 2nd Cavalry. These were renumbered the 1st through 5th U.S. Cavalry regiments, respectively, and a 6th was recruited. The Union was initially reluctant to enlist additional regiments, because of the expense, the understanding that training an effective cavalryman could take as long as two years, and the conventional wisdom that the rough and forested terrain of the United States, being so different from that of Western Europe, would make the deployment of Napoleonic-style cavalry forces ineffective. As the war progressed, the value of cavalry was eventually realized (primarily for non-offensive missions), and numerous state volunteer cavalry regiments were added to the army. While initially reluctant to form a large cavalry force, the Union eventually fielded some 258 mounted regiments and 170 unattached companies, of differing enlistment periods, throughout the war and suffered 10,596 killed and 26,490 wounded during the struggle.
The Union cavalry was disadvantaged at the start of the war because Northern soldiers allegedly had less comparative equestrian experience than their Southern counterparts, and the Union army did not institute an examination in basic horsemanship before a recruit was mustered into service until August 1862. In addition, over half (104 out of 176) of the experienced U.S. Army cavalry officers had resigned their commissions to fight for the Confederacy. One advantage the Union horseman had over his opponent was the centralized horse procurement organization of the army, relieving him of any responsibility for replacing an injured horse. Commanders often tried to procure specific breeds for their men, with the Morgan being a particular favorite within the Army of the Potomac. Famous Morgan cavalry mounts from the Civil War included Sheridan's "Rienzi" and Stonewall Jackson's "Little Sorrel".
Early in the war, Union cavalry forces were often wasted by being used merely as pickets, outposts, orderlies, guards for senior officers, and messengers. The first officer to make effective use of the Union cavalry was Major General Joseph Hooker, who in 1863 consolidated the cavalry forces of his Army of the Potomac under a single commander, George Stoneman.
Halfway into the war, during the summer of 1863, the Union cavalry came into its own. Widely regarded as inferior to its Southern counterpart up until then, the Battle of Brandy Station, although tactically indecisive, is recognized as the point at which it was acknowledged to have comparable competence.
In 1864, Philip Sheridan was given command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and he deployed his horsemen in a more effective, strategic way than his predecessors. Despite the reluctance of his superior, Major General George G. Meade, Sheridan convinced General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant to allow him to deploy the cavalry in long-range raids, the first of which, at Yellow Tavern, resulted in the death of Confederate commander Jeb Stuart. He later employed his cavalry force effectively in the Valley Campaigns of 1864 and the Appomattox Campaign, in pursuit of Robert E. Lee.
In the Western Theater, two effective cavalry generals have not achieved the fame of their Eastern counterparts: Benjamin Grierson's dramatic raid through Mississippi was an integral part of Ulysses S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign; James H. Wilson was invaluable in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign and in his 1865 Alabama raid.
After the war, the U.S. Army cavalry achieved great prominence on the Western frontier, fighting against the force that most historians consider the best light cavalry in the world, the American Indian.