Cavalry and Artillery

On the eve of the Civil War, the cavalry arm of the Union forces, like the infantry, was woefully understrength. T here were only five regiments of regular cavalry and they were out protecting settlers on the plains. The 1st Regiment of dragoons had been recruited in 1836 while the 2nd regiment had originally been raised as a mounted rifle regiment in 1844. The 1st and 2nd Cavalry, the newest of these regiments, had been raised in 1855. A third cavalry regiment was raised in June 1861 and later all the regular mounted units were redesignated as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th cavalry regiments in order of seniority.

The army could also draw on the small number of mounted militia units in the North, but these were never as many as the infantry militia units. Maintaining horses and equipment was expensive in the North which unlike the rural South did not have such fine traditions of horsemanship. Nevertheless some militia cavalry units had flourished in the North. The 3rd Regiment, Hussars, of the New York State Militia, wore dark blue cloth jackets and fur busbies but it was said that their horses were delivery wagon horses, used by many of the regiment's personnel in their ordinary jobs. As a whole, the regiment didn't see action during the Civil War but one troop was in service with the Army.

The National Lancers of Boston whose lineage dated back to 1836 and who became Troop A of the 1st Battalion of Light Dragoons, Massachussetts Volunteer Militia wore smart red jackets and elaborate czapkas as part of their full dress uniform. Men from the National Lancers, minus their lances, saw sendee with the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry and anybody experienced on a horse was a boon to the struggling Union cavalry.

General Winfield Scott, the ageing War of 1812 and Mexican War hero, who commanded the United States Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, had cantankerously spurned the use of cavalry for the coming struggle and many offers from established militia regiments or offers to raise fresh regiments were rejected by the War Department. A diehard artilleryman, Scott maintained that the war would be decided by cannon and that Northern cavalrymen would not be able to operate properly in the South. Volunteer cavalry was accepted on the basis that individual states provided mounts and equipment.

The North was slow in recruiting cavalry. A request to raise a serious number of 40,000 cavalry was not made until February 1862, when each state was asked to supply cavalry units. Equipment shortages which had also plagued the infantry were prevalent. At the beginning of the war the government had barely 5,000 sets of horse equipment to issue. Outfitting a cavalry regiment was also very expensive, costing in excess of $400,000. However there were advantages to recruiting a cavalry regiment.

Cavalry had always been the most glamorous arm of military service as they swept passed lowly infantrymen, so recruiting usually went well among men who wanted to be something more than a foot soldier. The trouble was that the men who knew horses well, such as farmers, also knew the amount of work in caring for a horse and enlisted elsewhere. Quite often, eager recruits were city boys with no real knowledge of the animals; but they soon learned. Even before he was taught the most basic drill moves, the cavalryman was taught how to look after his mount.

Despite the government's extra investment in equipping the cavalry, it was not used as decisively as Confederate cavalry in the early stages of the war. Union cavalry was largely confined to picket duty


Charles H. Masland of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, the famous Rush's Lancers, draws his sword for a patriotic pose. Note the shoulder scales on Masland's uniform which the Lancers favoured more than other cavalry regiments.


Pictures Confederate CavalrymanUnion Mounted Service Jacket

Union cavalryman in shell jacket with shoulder scales. He's also wearing dark blue trousers undoubtedly reinforced on the insides of the legs to cope with the rigours of being on horseback. David Scheinmann.

A cavalryman stands beside his horse, wearing a pair of gauntlets which surprisingly were not standard issue for mounted troops and had to be privately purchased. David Scheinmann.

Union cavalryman in shell jacket with shoulder scales. He's also wearing dark blue trousers undoubtedly reinforced on the insides of the legs to cope with the rigours of being on horseback. David Scheinmann.

resulting in the frequent infantryman's jibe 'Whoever saw a dead cavalryman?' Eventually the cavalry gained its independence and grouped into brigades and divisions became equal to Southern horsemen.

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