How the Union Cavalry Transformed into a Viable Force

by martybrvt on March 4, 2009 · 19 comments

The many problems faced by the Union cavalry before it became a viable force have long been debated. Even Winfield Scott felt that cavalry would not play a major role in the battle between the states. His feeling was that the hilly and woody terrain in the east, and the accuracy improvements in side arms and artillery would render dragoons ineffective. In the first years of the war, McLellan and Pope seemed bent on using the cavalry for menial tasks and treated them as an afterthought.

In ‘The Photographic History of the Civil War, the Cavalry’, Theophilus Rodenbough, a young Union cavalry captain during the war, states that in 1860, young men of the north gravitated to indoor  and commercial pursuits, while in the south the men lived the country life, replete with ranching, hunting, and riding. Jefferson Davis himself, a veteran of the Mexican War, had been a dragoon. The south had only to organize thousands of young men who rode their own horses to service. Contrast this with the north, where almost all cavalrymen had to be trained in all things pertaining to horses and riding with sabers and firearms, a process which Rodenbough felt took two years.

The South instantly recognized the many uses of a mobile and semi-independent cavalry. These included throwing weight behind infantry and artillery, reconnointering and counter-recon (preventing spying by enemy scouts), delaying enemy advances by falling back from point to point as the terrain afforded, pursuing and harrassing retreating infantry,consolidating gains and preventing re-grouping and counter attack, raiding enemy positions and communication lines (either independently or in conjunction with the army). They could also be used as troop escorts, as outpost garrisons when not engaged, for protecting infantry’s flanks, raiding supply depots, tearing up RR tracks, destroying bridges.

In the meantime the early Union leaders were content to use them as escorts, couriers, and bodyguards. The results of early encounters between cavalry forces were predicatably one-sided. Little Mac ignored the possibilites, reducing his mounted forces, and Pope actually disregarded scouting reports from such stalwarts as Buford and Bayard. His defeat at Second Bull Run was due in part to his reluctance to utilize his cavalry, even while JEB Stuart was terrorizing his flanks.

Burnside furthered these mistakes. His mounted troops stood by, inactive, while Stuart and Pelham tormented his infantry. Finally, Joe Hooker replaced Burnside and decided that the cavalry would no longer operate at the behest of the core commanders. He was the first Union commander to grasp the idea of  the cavalry as a larger, semi-independent force. Unfortunately, he appointed the under-inspired and under-inspiring General George Stoneman as the Major General of the mounted troops.

Stoneman’s ‘raid’, in which he failed to find, much less destroy, several enemy supply bases, cost him his command when his lack of support allowed Stuart to chop up Hooker’s flank in the Wilderness. Hooker replaced him with Alfred Pleasonton, whose main ability was self-promotion. His colleagues questioned his integrity and were fearful of his ambition. His own men, having seen him in combat, noted his lack of courage.Yet Hooker promoted him over such talents as the redoubtable Winfield Scott Hancock.

In retrospect, its hard to comprehend the northern leaders’ reluctance to use cavalry. Both southern and northern press alike were touting the exploits of JEB Stuart, and to a lesser extent, Mosby, Ashby, and Forrest. Perhaps this reluctance stemmed from a lack of confidence, a possible concern that the northern cavalry was too inefficient to be effective. Whatever the reasons, the Union cavalry had finally gotten their legs under them by the spring of ’63.

From June 9th right through the retreat of Lee after Gettysburg, both mounted forces rode and fought almost non-stop. Shortly before this, Lee had expanded Stuarts’  command of 6,000. He ordered Brig Gen William ‘Grumble’ Jones to join Stuart for the invasion of the north. He had John Imboden escort the infantry march on the western flank.

Lee had little faith in Albert Jenkins, and placed him with the vanguard rather than have him serve under Stuart (much to Stuart’s relief). The fourth brigade that Lee pulled for the march was that of Beverly Robertson, whom Stuart also disliked. Lee also had doubts as to Robertson’s ability and stability. But the Confederate commander-in-chief was clearly calling on all available horse soldiers for the invasion.

In Edward G. Longacre’s ‘The Cavalry at Gettysburg’, he cites Brandy Station as the first battle in which the union cavalry gives Stuart a run for his money. Anyone who believes that the Gettysburg campaign was a long uneventful march, followed by three days of fighting, and then a quiet retreat, must read this book. The mounted forces for both sides fought constantly for position at every turn. Longacre’s book covers events from Brandy Station through the retreat back across the Potomac.

Who won at Brandy Station? The Federals had the higher casualties, but also had the disadvantage of being the attacking party, and their assault had to be made crossing a swollen river. This while in the face of a cavalry corps that had chosen its ground, and was also able to concentrate forces at the only two crossable spots, Kelly’s and Beverly’s Fords.

More important than declaring a winner, it was becoming apparent that the northern mounted forces had improved and could now deal with the brilliant Stuart’s men on equal terms. They proved it beyond a doubt in a series of running encounters, following Brandy Station to Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, giving as good as they got.

Buford’s scouting out the southern infantry and deploying his 2,700 cavlrymen, and his subsequent hold until Reynolds arrived is well known. But not so many people are aware of General David Gregg’s heroic work on Day three, refusing the chastized and furious Stuart’s obstinate attempts to pierce the Union lines from behind. Had the Beau Sabreaur been allowed to penetrate, Pickett’s charge may have succeeded, and Lee may have had his yearned -for victory on union soil.

When Lee fell back to the swollen Potomac, Stuart had to hold off constant advances by Buford and Kilpatrick as they badgered the retreating infantry. From July 8th through the 11th, Stuart was at his best defending the infantry at Boonesboro, Beaver Creek, Funkstown, and Sharpsburg. But it was clear by this time that the forces were now equal.

Again, a lot of factors went into this transformation. As the war continued, the South lost many of their great cavalry leaders, including  Ashby, Pelham, Morgan, and, of course, Stuart. The Confederacy had the additional problem of being unable to keep their warriors in horse flesh. Many of these mountless soldiers were gathered together in a useless group, called ‘Company Q’. Their weapons never matched the quality of the North’s repeating rifles, and even their saddles and equipment were in disrepair. Just as many of the infantrymen were shoeless, the mounted forces faced the same issues.

Contrast this with the North’s cavalry, well-equipped, with horse depots in several cities, most notably Giesboro, DC. So, as the South’s cavalry slowly lost effectiveness, mainly through lack of resources, the Union’s grew ever stronger. Through a seeming process of trial and error they had finally gotten in place better leadership than at any time during the war. In May, ’64, the relentless Sheridan took 10,000 troopers from Spotsylvania to Yellow Tavern, where Stuart received his mortal wound. After a hotly contested battle, Sheridan drove the Confederate cavalry back into Richmond. The North now controlled the main highways into the capital. Weeks later, Sheridan defeated the Confederate horsemen again at Trevillian, and followed that by breaking up the supply depot at White House on the Pamunkey, and driving the 900 wagons to Petersburg to meet up with Grant. The transformation was complete.

Looking back, Major McLelland of Stuart’s staff remarked, ” The government committed the fateful error of allowing the men to own their own horses, paying them a per diem, and the muster valuation in cases where they were killed in action, but giving no compensation for horses lost by any other casualties of a campaign…. toward the close of the war many were unable to remount themselves….”

” The second cause was the failure of the government to supply good arms and accoutremnets. Our breech-loading arms were nearly all captured from the enemy and the same may be said for bridles and saddles. From these causes, which no commander had the power to remedy, there was a steady decline in the numbers of the Confederate cavalry, and, as compared with the Federal cavalry, a decline in efficiency.”

The superiority of the Union arms cannot be overstated. As the war unfolded, the supply and quality of US cavalry carbines steadily increased. Several regiments were issued the 16 shot Henry rifle. Its accuracy and ability to fire that many rounds without reloading had an understandably debillitating effect on the flagging spirit of the southern soldiers. During Grierson’s amazing raid through the southwest, a captive confederate prisoner asked one of his captors, “Say, do you all load your guns on Sunday, and then fire’em all week.”

By the time the two armies arrived in Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac boasted 13,000 horse soldiers. At the close of the war, Sheridan was at Appomattox with 15,000, while Wilson, in the south, was sweeping Alabama and Mississippi with several thousand more.

Camp Pope Publishing

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Wittenberg March 4, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Wow…I hardly know where to begin.

With all due respect, there’s so much factually incorrect about this essay that I hardly know where to start.

First, and foremost, it is completely wrong to say that Pope “seemed bent on using the cavalry for menial tasks and treated them as an afterthought” could not possibly be more wrong. In point of fact, Pope was the first to brigade volunteer cavalry regiments, and in spite of some serious logistical problems, used them very effectively during the Second Bull Run Campaign. Buford’s and Bayard’s brigades did some outstanding scouting/recon work, and Bayard’s brigade fought the first large-scale cavalry fight at Brandy Station on August 28, 1862. There are plenty of things to criticize Pope for, including for downplaying Buford’s intel reports on August 30, 1862, but I will suggest to you that of all of the major Union army commanders in the East, nobody had a better understanding of the proper use of cavalry than Pope. That’s not a popular view, I realize, but the facts amply support it.

You claim that Hooker fired Stoneman, allegedly because of failures. You’ve obviously not read my book The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863, or you would know that Stoneman left the army on medical leave on May 15, 1863, to seek treatment for a horrendous case of hemorrhoids that made every minute spent in the saddle a living hell. Pleasonton assumed TEMPORARY command of the Corps, as its senior division commander, as a result. He was not formally and permanently appointed to corps command until August, after the Gettysburg Campaign and well after Hooker was relieved of command of the army. Again, that’s a documented fact.

There simply is not a shred of reliable historical evidence to support your contention that Stuart was furious or chastised, thereby prompting him to move to East Cavalry Field on July 3. The truth is that the only account that claims that Stuart and Lee had cross words was that of Col. Thomas T. Munford of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry, and he was not present when Stuart met with Lee. Munford was still marching to Gettysburg. There were two participants to that meeting and two witnesses: Lee, Stuart, and Lee’s secretaries, Charles C. Marshall and Charles Venable. Not one of them left an account. So, the rest is supposition based on hearsay. Sorry. That doesn’t cut it.

There also is not a single shred of historical evidence to suggest that Stuart’s movement was to be coordinated with Pickett’s Charge, Tom Carhart’s crappy fiction notwithstanding. None. And believe me when I tell you that I have spent 15 years researching and writing, and that I have read every word of primary source material known to exist, and there is NOTHING that says this. Lee’s report doesn’t say it, and neither does Stuart’s. It’s factually incorrect.

And where in the world do you get the idea that Trevilian Station was a Union victory? It was a Union victory like Appomattox was a Confederate victory. Sheridan accomplished absolutely nothing that he was ordered to do for his expedition, and, just for good measure, Wade Hampton thoroughly thrashed his command at Trevilian Station.

There’s more, but I think I’ve made my point. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from researching and writing, but please, do yourself a favor, and get your facts right before you publish something. You will avoid this sort of feedback.

And, by the way, with fourteen books in print on the Union cavalry in the Civil War, I think I know a little bit about the subject.

Eric

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marty hancock March 4, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Eric,

Thanks for your feedback. As you mention, with 14 books on the subject, you know a little bit about the subject.
As a guy who has about 14 less books than that published, let me reply as best I can.
First, my point that Pope disregarded the importance of cavalry was culled to a great extent from Longacre’s “The Cavalry at Gettysburg.”
I’ll not dispute your contention that Pope was the first commander to brigade and effectively use cavalry at Bull Run. I will tell you that everything I’ve read does not support that contention.
Stoneman did have hemorhoids, and retired for medical treatment, as you mention, and therefore was not really ‘fired ‘by Hooker, and its true that Pleasonton was a temporary replacement. I admittedly glossed over these details. My point was only that the Union cavalry’s leadership was constantly shifting and for the most part, weak.
Also, there may well be no definitive proof that Lee chastized Stuart. We’re into the realm of conjecture and opinion and as a guy who’s not published I have no right to make such an assumption.
Re Trevilian Station, according to Captain Charles D. Rhodes, it was aUnion victory. He states that following Sheridan’s rejoining Grant near Chesterfield station, ” This brilliant success was followed in June by one scarcely less important in its moral and material effect upon the Confederacy- Sheridan’s Trevilian raid, in which, at Trevilian Staion, the Confederate cavalry was again seriously defeated.”
The text goes on to say that,” Sheridan dismounted two of Torbert’s brigades, and, aided by one of Gregg’s, carried the Confederate works, driving Hampton’s division back on Custer, and even through his lines. Gregg’s other brigade had meanwhile attacked Fitzhugh Lee, causing the entire opposing cavalry to retire on to Gordonsville.”
Rhodes then writes, “Following this victory….”
Far be it from me to argue with a guy who’s written fourteen books, but, in a book published somewhere around 1911, with the war still fresh in his mind, Captain Rhodes considered Trevilian a rousing victory for Sheridan. Two southern officers, Major Holmes Conrad, Major Cavalry Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, and John Wyeth, M.D., of Captain Quirk’s Scouts, CSA, contribute to this book and did not refute Rhodes.
Of course, what did they know? They were only soldiers, not authors.

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Craig March 4, 2009 at 9:37 pm

You mention the use of repeating arms as a strength of the Federal mounted forces. I’ve always felt the issue of such to have both positives and negatives. While it is easy to see where the repeaters offered tactical advantages, there were severe logistical limitations which restricted the effectiveness of the weapons.

Henry or Spencer repeaters required very specific ammunition. Even the breechloading carbines of the Federal mounted arm tended to require “specialty” ammunition of sorts. Even the venerable Sharps used a different caliber than the standard infantry rounds. That meant any Federal foray had to fight with what it carried.

Weight is a serious factor when “riding a raid.” If you carry more ammunition, something else has to be sacrificed. Most references I’ve seen (primary and secondary) indicate a good balance was between 40 and 80 rounds carried per trooper. Additional rounds, say between 120 and 180 per man, were brought by wagon (imposing some tactical limitations on the formation BTW).

For the Trevillian Raid, Sheridan indicated his troopers carried 40 rounds, with 60 more per man in the trains. Figure a “brisk skirmish” rate of firing of one round every other minute on average (thus negating the advantage of a repeater of course). That means within the span of three hours, the force is theoretically out of ammunition! I recall Sheridan listing a shortage of ammunition as one reason for turning back on that campaign. But the exact reference escapes me.

Another measure of just what a troopers load was comes from Gen. Wilson’s detailed report of the Selma-Mobile Raid at the end of the war (OR Ser. 1, Vol. 49/1, page 356) . “five days’ light rations in haversacks, twenty-four pounds of grain, one hundred rounds of ammunition, one pair of extra shoes for his horse” The pack animals with the force carried five days of rations. The wagons carried an additional 45 days of rations, and 80 rounds per man. This supply was to support the column for 60 days, and required 250 wagons.

In his “analysis” of Cavalry Tactics of the war, Captain Alonzo Gray offered additional statistics regarding the logistics. For a 100 man troop to have 84 rounds per man, this translates to a 700 pound payload on the wagon. And then of course each trooper is carrying between 7 to 10 pounds of ammunition weight with him.

I guess my point here is repeaters might offer some significant advantages when considered from the perspective of a single firefight. But from the scope of a larger campaign, the realities of a “soldiers load” would mitigate those advantages.

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marty hancock March 5, 2009 at 8:20 am

Craig,
Thanks for expounding on the pros and cons of the repeaters.
I had read that the Burnside, which was favored by many troopers for its strength, had the disadvantage of its cartridges, which were composed of brass sheet metal, being very expensive. From what you say, the Henry and Spencer had much the same problems.
Great info on the logistics of transporting ammunition.

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Joe March 5, 2009 at 1:48 pm

I don’t see the need for anyone to get overly worked up about this post. It’s not as if it is written by a professional historian and being passed off as the final word on the Union cavalry’s role in the Civil War. It’s a blog post on an obsure blog read by dorks like us who are interested in this sort of stuff. Feel free to critique it and offer your own opinions but I don’t see the need to denigrate the author or what he’s trying to do, whether on this website or any other. At the very least, the post will keep us all entertained and give those who are interested in the topic an opportunity to debate and discuss further. The world of Civil War “buffs” is a relatively small one. If we want to grow it, or even keep it alive, no one should be discouraged from setting forth their ideas, opinions, etc., particularly in a forum such as this one. This is particularly so for those looking to sell books and otherwise earn income from the study, etc., of the Civil War.

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Will Hickox March 5, 2009 at 9:30 pm

“If we want to grow it, or even keep it alive, no one should be discouraged from setting forth their ideas, opinions, etc., particularly in a forum such as this one. ”

Joe, if you reread Eric’s comment you will see that he is careful to not discourage the writer from presenting his work. He is pointing out the necessity of painstaking research and backing up our claims with solid evidence.

To some, the study of the Civil War is a hobby; to others, it’s a passion, and as such taken seriously.

IMHO if a writer wants to progress beyond the “dork on an obscure blog” phase, he has to take the criticism of the experts, learn from it and “adjust fire” accordingly. Judging from his gracious response to Eric, Marty appears to be on the right track.

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Will Hickox March 5, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Except for his parting shot: “Of course, what did they know? They were only soldiers, not authors.” C’mon, Marty, I’m sure we all know that even the most heroic soldiers are not always interested in presenting dispassionate truth. We owe it to our readers–and to the brave men we write about–to base our claims on a wide range of sources.

But what do I know? I’m just a Soldier who likes to study history.

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marty hancock March 6, 2009 at 7:46 am

Will,
I appreciate youyr input. True that even the most heroic and honest soldiers do not always tell the truth. Especially when it comes to damage control, or trying to justify actions years later.
I’ll respectfully submit to you that not all authors tell the truth all the time either, and I mean this as no reflection on anyone. An author can slightly downplay certain events and over-emphasize others in order to prove a point.
Take for instance, the recent review on this blog of Benson Bobrick’s book, “Master of War, The Life of General George H. Thomas.”
The reviewer shows how the author seems to have an agenda, that of showing Thomas in the best possible light, even at the risk of overlooking accepted research.
This in not an indictment of that book, I’ve not read it. But there’s a valid poinit there.
As far as ‘owing it the our readers’ to research, believe it or not, I’ve done my fair share of research and reading. Maybe my mistake was in not clearly qualifying each statement, ie….”Captain Rodenbough stated, in the book__________, on pg___________, that Sheridan….”
Do you see where I’m going? Then it becomes, to me, a mini-book, complete with footnotes, etc….
I understood this to be a blog for informed amateurs, for guys who know a little, or even a lot more than the average bear, but by no means portray themselves as professors of military history.
I was going to let this die, as I seem to have created a tempest in a teapot here, but you sound like a guy who calls it right down the middle and I thought I’d respond once more.

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Joe March 6, 2009 at 8:37 am

Like Marty, my initial inclination was to just let this die. However, given that I was specifically quoted in one of the above posts, I wanted to respond as best I could to the commentary on my post above.

First, while Eric certainly says the right things about not wanting to discourage anyone from researching and writing, the tone of his post above and the “rant” on his own website is decidely condescending and somewhat meanspirited IMHO. Over the last 20 years or so, I have had the good fortune to meet many, many renowned Civil War historians at various book signings, preservation meetings, roundtables and reenactments and virtually to a man (I don’t want to sound sexist but I think everyone was a man), they were extremely approachable, good-natured and gentlemanly. Even when interacting with the less informed and more casual members of their audience they were unfailingly considerate and patient. In my experience, oftentimes the tone of what you say is as important, if not more so, than what you say.

Second, I was under the impression that this was a blog for “informed amateurs,” which is what Hancock appears to me to be. I don’t see the need to call him out in the way that the lead poster did. Constructive criticisim is one thing, attempting to throw one’s weight around and boasting of the number of books one has published is another. I certainly have no objection to serious and passionate Civil War study. However, keep in mind that may so-called professional historians roaming the halls of academia, i.e., those with a doctorate degrees in history, consider people like Eric and others without traditionally accepted academic credentials as amateurs and “pop historians” regardless of how much they know, have researched or published. Trust me, I know some of these people and I know what their opinions are of anyone who hasn’t followed the traditional historian route. Nevertheless, I certainly don’t agree with their opinion any more than I agree with the way some treated Hancock’s post.

Lastly, based on other posts I’ve read on this website and others, there are a plethora of interesting Civil War books coming out in the near future, in addition to the multitude already out in print. As such, the question those of with an interest in the Civil War have to ask ourselves is which authors and publishing houses we want to support. IMHO, I’d rather not support those who don’t treat the Civil War community (for lack of a better term) with a certain degree of dignity and respect.

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Theodore P. Savas March 7, 2009 at 10:11 am

Marty

I thank you for taking the time and trouble to write about anything on the Civil War. It is good and healthy for others to pick and prod at whatever you write, and you seem to realize that. That speaks highly of you and your character.

Indeed, that’s what the game is all about. Facts are important to get right, and many are debatable. Many, however, are not. The exchange of ideas and suggestions and sources make all of us better at what we love so much.

I think, though, that any feedback–public or private–should always be done in a respectful, optimistic, and helpful manner. (Unless you are a politician, in which case you should be strung up along Constitution Avenue, with a few carted off for raising along Main Street USA. But that’s for a different post.)

You are an amateur? Fine. Be proud you have the bug. The vast majority of writers on this subject are not professionals. Only a handful of the authors we have published are “professionals,” and frankly, I find working with many (not all, of course) of them much more difficult. Some know how to research but can’t write worth a darn; others know how to write well, but are terrible researchers; nearly all have an inflated sense of self-worth that makes me chuckle at their pomposity. So bring on the amateurs any day. Savas Beatie cut its teeth and made its reputation with guys who make their living doing everything but teaching and writing.

I cringe on occasion when I read something I published twenty years ago (and I am professionally trained as a historian); I cringe less today only because of the time and effort I have put behind the craft.

So keep reading, keep writing, and keep up the back and worth. I, for one, applaud the effort.

tps
Theodore P. Savas
Managing Director
Savas Beatie LLC
989 Governor Dr., Suite 102
P.O. Box 4527, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
Phone: 916.941.6896; Fax: 916.941.6895
http://www.savasbeatie.com

Join us for behind-the-scenes publishing insights at
http://www.savasbeatie.blogspot.com and http://www.savasbeatiemarketing.blogspot.com

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Craig March 7, 2009 at 11:14 am

Marty,
I do hope you did not take my comment in the wrong light. The comment was intended to simply add to a few things you’d mentioned. It gave me an opportunity to expand on some thoughts I had regarding the operations of the mounted arm. Some that I think are often overlooked with regard to the effectiveness (or in-effectiveness) of cavalry formations in the war. And by no means would I say I’m an expert in the topic.

It’s always a two edged sword when writing to a broad audience. Say what you know now, and as sure as the sun will rise, someone will point out something overlooked. On the other hand, if you stay silent, it is a thought not related and shared.

Craig.

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marty hancock March 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Ted,
Thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. I’m much better; my therapist tells me I should be able to blog again after a few more sessions.
Seriously, I’m glad I did not respond to the critical comment as scathingly as I nearly did. People such as yourself and Joe replied far more eloquently than I ever could.
I thank you again for taking the time to compose and send along a very thoughtful comment.

Craig,
Don’t think for a minute that I took your contribution as anything other than a valuable addition to my post, the kind of comment that any blogger hopes to generate. You’re a gentleman, and, if you’re not an expert, you could have fooled me. Your information, and the way you conveyed it, promotes dialog and thought, which is what I think this whole thing is all about.
Thanks for the thought. I’ll look forward to reading anything you post.

Regards,
Marty

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Jonathan Anderson March 10, 2009 at 7:00 am

“I don’t mean to discourage anyone from researching and writing”

I think you just did.

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Bryce A. Suderow March 10, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Marty,

I think you were correct in your listing three causes in particular for the Southern cavalry’s decline.

1. Loss of horses
2. Inferior weapons
3. Attrition of leadership and rank and file.

As an example of the attrition in horseflesh look at one of Lee’s cavalry brigades, Butler’s which consisted of the 4th, 5th and 6th SC Cavalry. In May 1864 tt came north from South Carolina with each regiment numbering over a thousand men each. By the time they fight at Burgess Mills on Oct. 27th the loss in horses had reduced each regiment to about one hundred men mounted.

Was Trevelians a Union or Confederate victory?

There are so many ways to measure these things that it is possible to argue both viewpoints.

I believe Sheridan failed to fulfill his mission. In Vol. 40, Part 1, p. 795 Sheridan summarizes his instructions for the operation:

“On the 6th of June I received instructions from General Meade and the lieutenant-general to proceed with two divisions of my corps to Charlottesville, for the purpose of cutting the Virginia Central Railroad, to unite, if possible, with Major General D. Hunter, whom I expected to met at or near Charlottesville, and bring his command over to the Army of the Potomac. There also appeared to be another object, viz, to remove the enemy’s cavalry from the south side of the Chickahominy, as, in case we attempted to cross to the James River, this large cavalry force could make such resistance at the difficult crossings as to give the enemy time to transfer his force to oppose the movement.”

Sheridan did not proceed to Charlottesville and join Hunter because Hampton fought him to a standstill at Trevelians. He did however, achieve one of Grant’s secondary objectives, to deprive Lee is much of his cavalry and it can be argued that this contributed to Lee’s failure to stop Grant’s army en route to the James. We’ll see what Gordon Rhea says in his upcoming book covering June 4 to June 18, 1864.

In the actual fighting at Trevelians the first day was obviously a Union victory. Hampton was driven back several miles and parts of his command were roughed up. However on the second day Sheridan launched a series of costly attacks against Hampton’s entrenched troopers which were repulsed with heavy loss. And Fitz Lee made a mounted attack and routed some of Sheridan’s men. Thus the second day was obviously Hampton’s victory.

It is interesting to note that during their retreat from Trevelians Sheridan’s men shot to death any horse that straggled, rather than allow him to be used in future by the Confederate cavalry.

I love discussing cavalry and hope we can share ideas and recommend books to each other.

Bryce

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marty hancock March 10, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Jonathon,
Don’t count me out yet, its only a fleshwound!
Bryce,
Your account of Day 1 at Trevilian coincides with much of the account from Captain Rhodes that I quoted. I must admit, I was scratching my head when I was told that Hampton ran Sheridan into the ground. Your summary of the second day clarifies that, at least to my satisfaction.
The percentage of horse fatalities in Butler’s command is indeed staggering. I was aware. as we all are, of the shortage of southern horseflesh toward the end of the war, but even with that in mind those are jaw-dropping numbers.
Thanks also for the side note re Sheridan’s men shooting weakened horses rather than allowing them to possibly later serve as mounts for the Confederates. Thoroughly illustrates the availability of horse flesh for the North as well as the dearth of same that the South was faced with.
I’ll be glad to grab any book that you recommend. I’m presently about 2/3 of the way through ‘What Hath God Wrought.’
If you’ve not read it yet, you’ve got to pick it up. It really fills in the time period between the War of 1812 through the end of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Wonderful read.
I’ll admit, though, that it is a little dry in spots, so I’m also reading ‘Flashman and the Angel of the Lord,’ by George MacDonald Frazier. Don’t tell anyone, though. Flashman’s kind of a guilty pleasure.
Marty

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J. David Petruzzi March 10, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Marty,

You may know me as a bit of a cavalry guy as well 🙂
Without getting into specifics of your piece, I too applaud your efforts. Sure, several of the points raised have different interpretations and you may have some of the facts a bit off, but like others I applaud your efforts. Your overall point about the transformation of the Federal cavalry is well-taken and one of the topics I enjoy discussing the most.
Hang in there. Research hard and take the hits wherever and whenever they come. It will make you grow and learn. I’ve always said, I learn nothing while my gums are flapping – only when I shut up. Some criticisms are harder hitting than others, but they all will benefit YOU in the end – and that’s what matters.

J.D.

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marty hancock March 11, 2009 at 7:24 am

J.D.
Very kind of you to comment.
Take it from a guy who has taken Civil War battlefield vacations, your words go a long way.
You’re right that this is how you learn.
For example, I’d have given short shrift to anyone who postulated that the North’s repeaters were not as big an advantage as one might think. But, after reading Craig’s comment, and how well he illustrates his point, I certainly stepped back and looked at that in a different light. Even something that seemed a given now becomes open to discussion. That’s the beauty of blogging.
As for the ‘civil war community’, as Joe puts it, whether we’re published authors, military history professors, or (if I may take the liberty) informed amatuers; at some point early in our lives we all saw or read something about the Civil War, and we were hooked, and the quest for more knowledge of it became a lifelong pursuit.
How’s that for a run-on sentence?
Thanks for your gracious message.

marty

ps….you’ve got to admit, my post may have inaccuracies, but you can’t say it ain’t got legs.

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Al Ovies March 11, 2009 at 9:12 am

Several years ago, I wrote a book on the activities of George Custer in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign entitled “Crossed Sabers.” It was a first effort for me and the culmination of many years of work, and was published at my own expense. One day while checking out how sales were doing on Amazon.com, I found that my book had been reviewed by one Eric Wittenberg, and I turned eagerly to it. I was definitely aware of who Eric was, and I looked forward eagerly to reading his review. Eric ripped me a new one!! At first I was disappointed, but after a little reflection I realized that he had been right on every point he had made. I emailed him and swore that my next effort would be better. I have since come to know Eric personally, and I can tell you that I have never met anyone more eager to help, more willing to pass on his incredible knowledge, and happier to see someone succeed. I am currently working on a second book, and I can tell you that his challenge to me has sparked me to strive to be better at something I love to do, and ratchet my work up to a much higher level. If I ever attain any level of success in this endeavor, it will only have been due to the unstinting assistance that Eric has given me over the years. Like me, Marty needs to make up his mind how to deal with Eric’s insights one way or the other, for better or for worse. As for me, all I can say is THANKS ERIC!!

Al

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marty hancock March 12, 2009 at 6:58 am

Al,
First, best of luck with your new book.
Thanks for sharing your experience.

I believe you can make a distinction between info published in a book, in which the author is trying to establish himself as an expert and maybe make a few dollars in the meantime, and an amatuer blog, in which most of the participants have no such designs.
Not that that gives anyone carte blanche to throw garbage out there. But I think you’ll agree that someone publishing a book is subject to much closer scrutiny and should answer to a higher standard than those who simply enjoy the ’round table’ forum that a blog promotes.

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