Cavalry And Its Effects On The Civil

War Essay, Research Paper

US History

Period 6

November 14, 1995

Cavalry; and Its affect on the War of Northern Aggression

The war of northern aggression, also known as the Civil War, was a war composed of battles and engagements all across the southern half of the United States. Because of the size of the battlefield, speed was a desired constituent for both armies. Cavalry, the use of soldiers on horseback, had been known for centuries, but the war of northern aggression utilized both cavalries to their limits. For the Confederate Army; James Ewell Brown Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and John Singleton Mosby were all important and crucial Cavalry officers. For the Union Army; George Armstrong Custer and Philip Henry Sheridan were the cavalry officers that stood apart from the rest of the army. The tasks assigned to these five officers were critical to the outcome of specific battles and the war as a whole.

James Ewell Brown Stuart, a.k.a. JEB Stuart, was one of the greatest cavaliers of all time. He believed that, “The duty of cavalry after battle is joined is to cover the flanks to prevent the enemy from turning them. If victorious, it improves the victory by rapid pursuit. If defeated, it covers the rear and makes vigorous charges to delay the advances of the enemy-or in the supreme moment, in the crisis of the battle, when victory is hovering over the field, uncertain upon which standard to alight-when the reserves are brought into action and the death struggle has come, then cavalry comes down like an avalanche, upon the flanks of troops already engaged, with splendid effect.” Stuart displayed this when he made his appearance at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August of 1862. He had circled the entire Federal army, returning with some 1200 enemy horses. After Stuart’s phenomenal success at the Second Battle Of Bull Run, Lee called him the “eyes of the army.” Stuart continued to display his military talents in many other battles. One in particular that held great significance was the cavalry Battle of Brandy Station. This was the first time that Stuart and his men were met by worthy opposition from the Federal cavalry. Although the Federal cavalry was large in force, Stuart’s fierce attacks sent them in rout, and a victory had been made for Stuart. Stuart’s downfall came at the Battle of Gettysburg. General Lee was in desperate need for the location of the Federal army. Stuart being the “eyes of the army”, was no where to be found. Because of his absence, Lee was never positive of the position of the “Yankees”. The south entered its first real offensive battle, not knowing what they were up against. Stuart never gained the total respect of the “southern nation” again.

Nathan Bedford Forrest, often discribed as a military genius, led the south in many campaigns out west. He was a brigadier general with no prior military experience, and no social background worth mentioning. “Get there first with the most men” was his aphorism. Forrest proved himself wrong in the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. At that battle, he was incredibly outnumbered, but still he prevailed. He caused more than 2200 Union casualties and lost fewer than 500 of his own, not to mention the seizure of 16 guns and 200 wagons. Forrest had really authenticated himself during one of his first tours of duty. Forrest’s cavalry was weak, miserably equipped, and totally untrained. Forrest accepted the challenge. He was to invade the union occupied sections of the Tennessee river valley. They started from Columbia, TN, crossing the river and north to the rail road junction town of Jackson. For the next 60 miles, Forrest and his troops capture union supply and ammunition dumps, seizing horses, weapons, and other essential needs. When the raid ended, he had more soldiers now than when he started, all of them excellently mounted, armed, clad, and fed by the United States government. Forrest’s final triumph came in 1864, when he had decisively defeated a superior Union force at Brice’s Crossroads. From then on he conducted successful raids in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.

Mosby was not a genius as Forrest and Stuart were considered to be, instead he was only a confederate ranger, mainly under JEB Stuart’s command. It was not until January 2, 1863, that Mosby, with only nine men, launched the ranger attacks for which he is best remembered. They struck isolated Union posts in northern Virginia and Maryland. The whole point of these guerilla tactics were to cut off the communications and disrupt supply lines. Although he is not one of the most remembered officers in the war of northern aggression, John Singleton Mosby was remarkable for what he did with what he had.

The Confederate army was filled with military prodigies, but the Union army was just as well equipped. The man that matched Stuart, Mosby and Forrest is Sheridan. Sheridan was posted out west until 1862. In 1862, he was appointed colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. He split his outnumbered command to rout a Confederate force at Boonesville, Miss. After his victories there, he was made a brigadier general of the 11th division of the Army of Ohio. He and his troops held repeated attacks at Perryville, KY. Sheridan continued southward until he reached the Stones River at Murfreesboro, TN. It was here that Sheridan made major general for his unyielding defense. Sheridan finest hour came in 1864, when Grant called him east to head the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. Sheridan, with help from his new army, destroyed considerable Confederate supplies and rolling stock in Richmond. This raid also was responsible for the death of the South’s great cavalry leader, JEB Stuart. He was also involved with the destruction of Confederate communication systems and a near apprehension of the noble General Lee near Appomattox.

Analogous to Mosby, General George Armstrong Custer, was not a huge component of the war in the east. His only real addendum to the war was his pursuit of General Lee. At age 23, he had become brigadier general of volunteers in command of a Michigan cavalry brigade. He distinguished himself in numerous battles for his tactics on flanking the enemy. Although his appearances in the east were limited, Custer did have a monumental campaign in the west. He was sent out west to control the Plains Indians known as the Sioux. He led an attack June 24, 1876, of the more than 200 men who followed him into battle, no one lived to tell the tale. Only a single horse, Comanche, survived the battle.

The war of northern aggression or southern defiance, either way, was the only war that only Americans died. It was a war of fast paced flanking and charging. With the help of the cavalry, and their commanding officers, the army had a greater chance of survival. The use of cavalry also gave one’s army the advantage of speed and mobility. Stuart, Mosby, Forrest, Sheridan, and Custer were all geniuses and brilliant war intellects. These five men went beyond the call of duty to out smart their opponent. In only one case did they meet and one was killed by another. The cause for the war was not important, what was important was the use of cavalry never to been seen like that again. The civil war was basically the last battle ground for horses in widespread combat.

World Book Encyclopedia, 1985 ed., s.v. “Civil War.”

As quoted in W.W. Blackford, War Years With JEB Stuart (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945) 26.

Ibid., 126.

W.W. Blackford, War Years With JEB Stuart (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945) 98.

Ibid., 217.

Bruce Catton, Centennial History of the Civil War: Never Call Retreat.(Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, inc., 1965), 335.

Ibid., 32-33.

Blackford, War Years With JEB Stuart, 60.

Catton, Centennial History of the Civil War, 42.

Ibid., 449-450.

Blackford, War Years with JEB Stuart, 44.

World Book Encyclopedia , 1985 ed., s.v. “Custer, George Armstrong.”


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