Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Soldiers of The IX

The United States Calvary

United States Cavalry
I found it surprisingly difficult to find the information I needed regarding the United States Cavalry, especially for the time period covering the events mentioned within The IX.
So, much of what you will read pertains to the history and development of such units.
America raised cavalry units for service during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Because of the great expense in maintaining mounted units these were not retained in the service afterwards and no longstanding traditions developed around them. In the forested lands of the East and where travel by river was common, mounted troops were not seen as having any advantages over ordinary infantry.
Prior to 1832 the only mounted units that served with the U.S. Army were state militia units who were called up for brief tours of service during emergencies. These units were limited to 90-days of service by law and lacked the skills and training needed to function as first class cavalry units. Once the plains became more populated the lack of mobility of infantry became a problem and in June of 1832 Congress approved a Battalion of Mounted Rangers. This experiment proved successful, and on March 2, 1833 Congress authorized a larger unit which this time was called The Regiment of U.S. Dragoons. Most European armies had dragoons, who were originally mounted infantry and structured and trained similarly to infantry units. Over time they evolved towards being light cavalry and Congress may have not been particular in its choice of the word “Dragoon” rather than “Cavalry” in naming the unit. Additional regiments of mounted troops were approved in the following years including one named the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen who were armed with the Model 1841 rifle rather than the more common musket of the period.

It was not until 1855 that the U.S. Army created units that were actually called cavalry. At the time of their creation they were distinct in being armed with Colt Navy pattern pistols, a new-fangled weapon for its time, but one that soon proved its worth. By the outbreak of the Civil War the regular army had five mounted regiments; two each of dragoons and cavalry and one of mounted riflemen. In August 1861 it was decided to rename all these units 'cavalry'. and they were numbered according to their seniority.
During the American Civil War additional volunteer cavalry were raised by various states and mustered into federal service. (272 regiments in all).
Early in the war, the then Major General Commanding the Army, Winfield Scott, discouraged the formation and acceptance of cavalry, his logic being the time and training it took to produce such soldiers when the war would be short. However, the later success of the Southern cavalry units soon changed opinion, and his policy was eventually reversed.

Early in the war Federal cavalry was judged not to have been the equals of the Confederates and was not used effectively. Stuart literally rode circles around the Union Army, frustrating the Union command and garnering a lot of publicity. However, what he achieved in the long run was a determination by his enemy to improve their cavalry arm, and by the 1863 Battle of Brandy Station it was Stuart who was surprised and given a bloody nose by the newly invigorated Union cavalry. Although the Confederates held the field and ultimately launched the Gettysburg campaign, the experience may have encouraged Stuart to try to regain his reputation with an over-extended raid that increasingly took him farther away from the main body of the Confederate Army of Robert E. Lee. His raid contributed to his ultimate failure to arrive on the battlefield in a timely manner and did little damage to the Union Army both materially or psychologically. When he did arrive he was checked by an equally aggressive (perhaps to the point of recklessness) Union cavalry leader in the person of George Armstrong Custer. Toward the end of the war the Union cavalry mounted destructive raids into southern territory, were armed with newly invented breach loading carbines that the industrial base of the South could not match and had perfected massive remount and veterinary capabilities that kept its troopers in the saddle and its artillery horses in their traces. The Confederate cavalry, on the other hand, was running out of horseflesh and found itself outnumbered and on the defensive. One can only wonder if Lee had had a better cavalry force available at the time of Appomattox might he have been able to slip away. However, the fate of the Confederacy was sealed before the first gun was fired, and the war would have ended with a Union victory so long as the northern population preserved the will to fight and had effective leadership.
During the Second World War tanks or assault guns were often rushed to the front and committed to combat with the paint barely dry so long as crews were available. This is not the case with cavalry mounts in the 19th Century. Immature and untrained horses are useless as cavalry mounts, and since wars last only so long they have to be fought with the existing inventory of animals. Combat, poor care, disease, stress, inadequate diet, lack of forage, hard road surfaces and carelessness all took their toll on horse flesh and the armies used up a large numbers of horses and mules. The price of animals steadily increased during the war, and there were standards written for purchasing agents of the quartermaster corps to follow in judging the fitness of the animals for service. The war did not distinguish between civilian and military horses either. Both armies often filched horses from civilians when operating in enemy territory. This was done both to supply the needs of the service but more important to deny their use to the enemy. At the end of the Civil War the Army sold its surplus of 104,000 horses at public auction.
With the end of the Civil War the United States embarked on a course of economic growth and westward expansion. In 1866 Congress authorized a total of 10 regiments of cavalry plus a corps of Native American Scouts. The 9th and the 10th Cavalry Regiments were composed of African-American soldiers and acquired the nickname of “Buffalo Soldiers.” In 1868 this force was scattered among some 59 outposts across the western states. Life was hard and conditions primitive. One cavalry officer commented in his memoirs that he never knew of any man, soldier or civilian, in the region who died a natural death. This was the period of the Indian Wars and cavalry units were employed were pursuing a foe who possessed a warrior ethos, superb horsemanship skills, superior knowledge of local conditions, and most surprisingly, often superior weapons purchased from white traders. The Native American tribes, despite their well-known successes such as the Fetterman Fight or the Little Bighorn, were as doomed as was the Confederacy to inevitable subjugation by sheer weight of numbers and persistence. The last act of hostility between Native American warriors and U.S. soldiers was the December 29, 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre which pitted the 7th Cavalry Regiment against a band of Lakota Sioux Indian including many women and children. Neither side was looking for a fight but a misunderstanding while the soldiers attempted to disarm the Indians touched off a fusillade of gunfire and the following massacre. It would be wrong to say that the Native Americans did not put up resistance or that soldiers did not die, but for the most part the characterization of the event as a massacre of Indians is accurate in that the soldiers fired on all the assembled natives indiscriminately. Even the Army was uncomfortable with the events, and General Nelson Miles, commander of the Department of the Missouri, denounced the colonel of the 7th Cavalry and relieved him of command.
As you know, I invented a fictitious long range reconnaissance patrol – the 5th Company, 2nd Mounted Rifles – who I thought would be a superb forum to bridge the gap between the ancient Roman army and the modern-day Special Forces team. To add the ‘real life’ factor, I thought it would be a nice idea to tie this improvised unit into our chronological timeline by committing them to a never reported special mission, vital to the actual peace treaty proposed by Abraham Lincoln when he was a Presidential candidate. That allowed me to introduce fictional characters linked to other persons from recorded history; Captain James Houston in particular who features broadly throughout the trilogy.

That completes this week’s overview of the soldiers of The IX. Next week, we’ll remind ourselves of the smallest contingent to be snatched away to Arden. The Special Forces guys of the Special Boat Service.

1 comment:

  1. Just a nitpick.

    US Army companies would be designated by a letter, not a number. Cavalry were generally called troops, not companies as well. So E Troop, 2nd Cavalry or similar.

    So the guidon would have a "2" in the upper half and an "E" in the lower half of the guidon.