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The Fascinating History of the US Cavalry

Apr 4, 2008
The cavalry is no more. But it has a glorious past. It was the elite corps of the Army because it was small and because, throughout the ages, glamour has surrounded the horseman; in any age, at any time, he is a knight in shining armor wearing a bright plume! Perhaps the most famous poem lauding courage of the cavalry is Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" (an action of British Cavalry against the Russians in the Crimean War in 1854). Probably the best known stanza is:

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldiers knew
Some one had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die;
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

The insignia of the Cavalry was crossed sabers (the hilt down).

The Cavalry's color was yellow.

The national and organization flags carried by the Cavalry and other mounted troops were known as standards rather than "colors."

The U. S. Army does not now, of course, and did not always, include Horse Cavalry. Mounted troops were not continuously maintained as part of our Army until 1833. Such mounted troops as were organized prior to that time were generally known as Dragoons.

The three regiments of cavalry and one of dragoons authorized by Congress shortly after the independence of the United States were never at their authorized strength and were subsequently disbanded, so that between 1802 and the beginning of the War of 1812 our army included no mounted troops. The two regiments of dragoons authorized, and partially organized just prior to the War of 1812, were disbanded in 1815.

The 1st U. S. Cavalry Regiment was organized in 1833 as the Regiment of Dragoons; its designation was changed to the 1st U. S. Cavalry (Regiment) in 1861. The 4th Cavalry Regiment was designated the 1st Cavalry in 1855 and changed back to the 4th Cavalry in 1861.

A "Mounted Riflemen" regiment was voted by Congress in 1845 as part of a program of frontier defense. Military posts were to be established along the trail to Oregon. The Mexican War broke out before this Regiment could take up its posts and it served in Mexico before settling the Oregon Trail.

The U. S. Cavalry was prominent in the Civil War (as was the Cavalry of the Confederate States), in the Indian Wars (Custer's last stand) and in the Spanish War in Cuba.

Virtually, there was no mounted Cavalry in World Wars I and II. However, a provisional squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment participated in mounted action in the Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne operations during World War I, and the 26th U. S. Cavalry (Philippine Scouts) were in mounted action on Bataan in the Philippine Islands during World War II. During the early days of World War II, the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Divisions and the 112th and 124th Cavalry Regiments were organized, trained and equipped as horse Cavalry until they left for overseas assignments.

The chief characteristic of cavalry was its unusual cross-country mobility combined with fire power and the capability of surprise shock action.

Missions assigned cavalry were reconnaissance; counter reconnaissance; advance, rear and flank guard; raiding; exploitation of victories (pursuit); the seizing of ground and holding it until infantry arrived; delaying action, etc.

MARCHES AND GAITS- The longest peacetime march made in a day by horse cavalry with full equipment, terminating with the command in good condition, was - believe it or not - 100 miles! This record one-day march was made by the Cavalry School Brigade, Fort Riley, Kansas in the spring of 1931 and again in the spring of 1932. A satisfactory day's march for trained horse cavalry with full equipment was, however, only about 35 miles.

Cavalry marches are generally made at the rate of about six miles per hour - at the trot and walk - with at least a five-minute halt each hour.

The cavalry indeed has a great and glorious tradition!
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