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I. Its Formations

1. The formations of cavalry for battle are either

(1.) In deployed lines. (2.) Lines of regiments, in columns of attack doubled on the centre. (3.) A mixed formation of lines and columns. (4.) Echelons of lines or columns; or (5.) Deep columns.

2. Deployed lines are not objectionable in principle. They are often not advisable; but are sometimes necessary.

But long, continuous lines should always be avoided; being unfavorable to rapid manoeuvring, which cavalry is constantly called upon to execute in the field.

3. Cavalry has, in its horses, an unreasoning element, which is not controllable, like men; and is therefore much more easily thrown into disorder than infantry. For this reason, when deployed, it should always be in two lines; the second behind the first; the first line deployed, and the second in columns of squadrons by platoons. There should be also a reserve at a few hundred paces behind the second line.

The second line should be near enough to the first to be able to support it, if checked; but not so near as to partake in its disorder, if repulsed.

4. Cavalry should be always in column when expecting to manoeuvre, or to be called on to make any rapid movement; this being the formation best adapted for celerity.

5. Cavalry deploys in lines

(1.) When preparing for a charge in line.

(2.) When preparing for any attack requiring the utmost possible width of front; as where the enemy is to be suddenly surrounded.

(3.) When it becomes necessary in order to prevent our troops from being outflanked by the enemy’s.

(4.) When exposed to continued artillery fire, which is much less destructive on a line than on a column.

6. Cavalry should always present a front at least equal to the enemy’s; otherwise, its flank, which is cavalry’s weak point, will be exposed to attack. When inferior in numbers, we may extend our line by leaving intervals, more or less wide, between its different corps. Any hostile squadrons that may attempt to pass through these intervals to take the line in rear, could be taken care of by the second line.

7. The best formation in respect to mobility is a line of regiments in columns by squadrons, doubled on the centre; corresponding to infantry double columns.

8. The mixed formation of lines and columns is more manageable than simple lines. Which of these two is preferable depends upon the ground, and upon all the other circumstances of the case.

9. The order in echelons is as good in attack as in retreat; since the echelons mutually support each other.

10. Decidedly the most objectionable of all cavalry formations is that in deep columns:

(1.) From the almost entire loss which it involves of its sabres, which are cavalry’s peculiar and most effective weapon.

(2.) From the long flanks which it exposes to attack.

11. The formation in one rank, instead of two, has been introduced by the new Cavalry Tactics, though it has been as yet but partially adopted in the field.

This innovation has two advantages. It doubles the number of sabres to be used against the enemy; and it enables the cavalry to cover double the ground; thus doubling, also, its power to outflank, which is a valuable advantage, especially when opposed to cavalry.

Its disadvantage is, that it must, more or less seriously, impair the solidity and vigor of the cavalry charge proper; in which a whole line, with “boot to boot” compactness, comes at once to the shock, like some terrific mechanical engine; and in which the riders in the front rank are compelled to dash on with full speed to the last; knowing that if they slacken rein, even for a moment, they would be ridden over by the rear-rank men one yard behind them. From there being no rear-rank to fill up the gaps caused, during the charge, by the enemy’s missiles, or by casualties occasioned by obstacles of the ground, the charging line must generally arrive on the enemy broken and disunited, or as foragers. The moral effect of such a charge on our own men will be unfavorable, as they will not realize the certainty of mutual support at the critical moment; and its moral effect on the enemy must be decidedly inferior to that produced by a charge that is at once swift, solid, and compact.

But the force of this objection is somewhat weakened, by the consideration that the compact charge of “cavalry of the line” must hereafter be comparatively rare, in consequence of the introduction of rifled artillery and infantry weapons, with their greatly increased accuracy and range; which ought to cause such slaughter in a line or column of charging cavalry, that, if it arrive at all to the shock, it would generally be only in scattered groups.

12. In advancing over wooded, or other obstructed ground, it may be necessary to break the line into company columns of fours, as in the infantry manoeuvre of advancing by the flanks of companies.

As the cavalry column of fours corresponds to the march of infantry by the flank, the use of this formation in action is open to the same objections that have been already pointed out as applying to flank marches by infantry.

II. Its Strong and its Weak Points

1. The value of cavalry on the battle-field consists chiefly in its velocity and mobility. Its strength is in the sabre-point and spurs.

2. Its charge is accompanied with a powerful moral effect, especially upon inexperienced troops. But,

3. Cavalry has but little solidity, and cannot defend a position against good infantry. For, if it remain passive on the ground it is to hold, the infantry will soon destroy it by its fire, to which it cannot, with any effect, reply; and if it attack at close quarters, the infantry, by means of its defensive formations, will be able, at least, to hold its ground, and probably repulse its charges by a reserved fire. So that the cavalry will finally have no alternative but to retire.

4. It is exposed and helpless during a change of formation; like artillery limbering up, or coming into action.

5. On its flanks, it is the weakest of all arms. A single squadron attacking it suddenly in flank, will break and rout cavalry of ten times its number.

At the battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon kept a few squadrons in rear of either flank, which, on his line being charged by a formidable body of Mamelukes, vastly superior to his own cavalry in numbers, horses, and equipments, nevertheless suddenly fell on their flanks and destroyed them.

6. Cavalry is never so weak as directly after a successful charge; being then exhausted, and in more or less disorder.

III. How Posted

1. A part of our cavalry must be so posted as to secure our flanks; remaining in column behind the wings, till the enemy’s movements require its deployment.

If one wing is covered by natural obstacles, give the cavalry to the uncovered wing; posting it in rear of the flank battalion of the second line.

2. When cavalry is posted on the flanks, it should not usually be on the first line of infantry. If it is to be used for attack, it is better to keep it retired from view till the last moment, in order to strengthen its attack by the powerful moral effect of a surprise. And, used defensively, it will be best posted on the flanks of the second line; since, in advancing to charge, it must have a clear space in its front of at least two hundred or three hundred yards, to enable it to act with freedom and vigor.

3. But if a position can be found for cavalry in front, where it would not be too much exposed, this may sometimes enable it to exercise an important moral effect, by threatening the flank of such of the enemy’s troops as may be sent forward to attack.

At the battle of Leipsic, in 1813, the Wurtemburg cavalry was launched against Blucher’s Prussian cavalry. But, seeing the Prussians drawn up not only in front, but opposite their flank, they lost confidence, charged feebly, and too late. They were consequently repulsed and driven back on the Marine Battalion, which they threw into confusion.

So, at the battle of Prairie Grove, in December, 1862, the First Iowa Cavalry, which was held in reserve, by its mere presence, caused every attempt of the rebels’ flanking regiments to be abandoned.

4. In order not to impede the manoeuvres of the infantry, cavalry should not fill intervals in the lines, or be placed between the lines.

It is dangerous when the ground is such as to require the cavalry in the centre of the first line; for, if it is beaten, a gap is left through which the enemy may penetrate. At the battle of Blenheim, in 1704, Marlborough owed his victory, in great measure, to the Allies’ forcing back the cavalry forming the centre of the French army; thus turning the whole of its right wing, and compelling the infantry posted at Blenheim to surrender.

5. Yet cavalry should always be near enough to the infantry to take immediate part in the combat; and although it should not be posted in the intervals between infantry corps, it may debouch through them, in order to attack more promptly.

At the battle of Friedland, the Russian cavalry charged a French infantry division. Latour Maubourg’s dragoons and the Dutch cuirassiers, riding through the battalion intervals, charged the Russians in turn, and drove them back on their infantry, throwing many of them into the river.

6. When both wings are uncovered, the best place for the cavalry will usually be in rear of the centre of the second line; whence it can be sent in the shortest time to either wing.

7. Cavalry should not be scattered over the field in small detachments, but be kept massed at one or more suitable points; as behind the centre, or behind one wing, or both wings. A small cavalry force should be kept entire; or it will have very little chance of effecting any thing whatever.

Cavalry of the line, to produce its decisive effects, must be used in heavy masses. In the beginning of the Napoleonic wars, the French cavalry was distributed among the divisions. Napoleon’s subsequent experience led him to give it more concentration, by uniting in one mass all the cavalry belonging to each army corps; and, finally, these masses were again concentrated into independent cavalry corps; leaving to each army corps only cavalry enough to guard it.

8. For tactical operations in the field, cavalry insufficient in number is scarcely better than none at all, as it can never show itself in presence of the enemy’s cavalry, which would immediately outflank and destroy it, and must keep close behind its infantry.

At the opening of Napoleon’s campaign of 1813, he had but very little cavalry to oppose to the overwhelming masses of this arm possessed by the Allies. In consequence of this, he could make no use of it whatever; and the tactical results of the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen were far inferior to those habitually obtained in his former victories, and were purchased with much greater loss.

9. Small bodies of cavalry threatened by the enemy’s cavalry in greatly superior force, may sometimes be saved by taking refuge in an infantry square, as practised by Napoleon at the battle of the Pyramids.

10. Cavalry should remain masked as long as possible; for it produces most effect when its position and movements are hidden, so that a strong force may suddenly be brought upon a weak point.

For this reason, a flat, open country is less favorable for this arm than plains with undulations, hills with gentle slopes, woods, villages, and farms; all these being so many facilities for screening cavalry from view.

11. Cavalry should never be brought to the front, except to engage. It is unfortunate when the ground is such as to prevent this; for cavalry, compelled to remain inactive under fire, is in great danger of becoming demoralized.

12. As to the ground:

(1.) Cavalry must not rest its flank on a wood, a village, or other cover for an enemy, till it has been occupied by our own troops. If compelled to do so, it should send out patrols to reconnoitre and observe. Its position is no longer tenable from the moment the enemy appears within striking distance on its flank.

(2.) It must not be posted on the very ground it is to defend, but in rear of it; as it acts effectively only by its charge.

Attacking cavalry must have favorable ground in front; defending cavalry, in rear. An obstacle in either case may be fatal.

IV. Its Supports

1. The flanks of cavalry lines or columns are always exposed. They should, therefore, be protected by supports of light cavalry, which can act promptly and swiftly. When behind a line, these supports should be usually in open column, so as to be able to wheel, without a moment’s delay, into line.

2. The most effectual mode of protecting the flank of a line or column of cavalry is by means of squadrons in rear, formed in echelons extending outwards; as this exposes the enemy’s cavalry that may attempt to charge the main body in flank to be immediately charged in flank themselves; which would be destruction. For this purpose, irregular cavalry may be as effective as any other.

3. This cavalry support or reserve behind the flanks may sometimes play an important offensive part. The enemy’s first line, the instant after either making or receiving a charge, is always in greater or less disorder; and a vigorous charge then made on it in flank by our own flank reserve, would have a decisive effect.

4. Cavalry should never engage without a support or reserve in rear, not only to guard its flanks, but also to support it when disorganized by a successful charge.

5. So, when engaged in skirmishing order, being then very much exposed, it must always be protected, like infantry skirmishers, by supports in close order.

6. It has been already seen that, although cavalry may carry a position, it cannot hold it, if attacked by infantry. When used for such a purpose, therefore, it should always be accompanied by an infantry support.

The French cavalry succeeded in carrying the plateau of Quatre Bras; but, having no infantry with it to reply to the terrible fire of the Allied infantry from the surrounding houses, it was compelled to retire, and yield it again to the enemy.

According to Wellington, Napoleon frequently used his cavalry in seizing positions, which were then immediately occupied by infantry or artillery.

V. How Used

1. Cavalry generally manoeuvres at a trot. At a gallop, disorder is apt to take place, and exhaustion of strength that will be needed in the charge.

2. The ordinary use of cavalry is to follow up infantry attacks and complete their success. It should never be sent against fresh infantry; and should generally, therefore, be reserved until towards the last of the action.

Napoleon, who, by concentrating his cavalry into considerable masses, had enabled himself to use it on the battle-field as a principal arm, sometimes produced great effects by heavy cavalry charges at the very beginning of the action.

But, though Napoleon’s splendidly trained heavy cavalry might sometimes break a well-disciplined infantry without any preparatory artillery fire, it would be dangerous to attempt this with cavalry inferior to it in solidity; and the new rifled weapons would seem to render the cavalry charges of his day no longer practicable.

3. Cavalry may be hurled against the enemys infantry

(1.) When it has been a long time engaged, and therefore exhausted.

(2.) When it has been shattered by artillery.

And always should be

(1.) When it is manoeuvring.

(2.) When the attack would be a surprise.

(3.) When its ranks begin to waver, or when it manifests any unequivocal symptom of hesitation or intimidation.

In the three latter cases, success will usually be certain; in the two former ones, quite probable: but, in most other cases, a cavalry charge will succeed, perhaps, only one time in ten.

4. The chief duties of cavalry in a defensive battle are

(1.) To watch the enemy’s cavalry, to prevent its surprising our infantry.

(2.) To guard our troops from being outflanked.

(3.) To defend our infantry and artillery while manoeuvring.

(4.) To be ready to charge the enemy the instant his attack on our troops is repulsed.

5. Used offensively, it must promptly attack

(1.) The enemy’s flanks, if uncovered.

(2.) His infantry, when, from any cause, its attack would probably succeed.

(3.) All detachments thrown forward without support.

6. When cavalry has routed cavalry, the victorious squadrons should at once charge in flank the infantry protected by the cavalry just beaten. The great Conde, when only twenty-two years of age, by this means, won the victory of Rocroi.

7. Deployed as skirmishers, by their noise, dust, and smoke, cavalry may furnish a good screen for our movements.

8. Cavalry skirmishers scout their corps, to prevent the enemy reconnoitring it too closely.

9. When a cavalry rear-guard has to defend, temporarily, a defile, a bridge, or a barricade, a part should dismount, and use their carbines till the rest are safe.

So, a cavalry vanguard, by its fire, dismounted, may prevent the enemy from destroying a bridge.

In these, and in similar cases, the cavalrymen should habitually dismount, in order to render their fire effective; acting and manoeuvring as skirmishers.

VI. How it Fights

1. The success of cavalry in battle depends on the impetuosity of its charge, and its use of the sabre. When deployed as skirmishers, mounted or dismounted, its proper weapon is the carbine or pistol; and in individual combats, these weapons may occasionally be very useful. But when acting as cavalry proper, in any compact formation, it must rely on the sabre. The aim with a pistol or carbine in the hands of a mounted man is so unsteady, that the fire of a line of cavalry is generally ineffective; and there are few occasions where it should be resorted to. When cavalry has learned to realize that these are not its true arms, and that it is never really formidable but when it closes with the enemy at full speed and with uplifted sabre, it has acquired the most important element of its efficiency.

2. Cavalry should, therefore, not fight in columns, as most of its sabres would thereby become useless. But if a facing about to retreat is feared, an attack in column would prevent it. It is said, also, that a column is more imposing than a line. If so, it might have a greater moral effect on the enemy.

3. When cavalry are deployed as skirmishers, as a curtain to hide our movements, they should be in considerable number, with small intervals, and should make as much noise, and smoke, and dust as possible. When the charge is sounded, the skirmishers wait and fall in with the rest.

4. The great rule in cavalry combats is to cover our own flanks, and gain the enemy’s; for these are his and our weakest points.

5. When the enemy’s cavalry is already in full charge on our infantry, it is too late for our cavalry to charge it with much prospect of success. In such a case, it would be better to defer our own charge till the moment that the enemy’s is completed; for our success then would be certain.

6. Cavalry attacks cavalry in line, in order to have the more sabres, and, if possible, to outflank the enemy.

7. If we can manoeuvre so as to attack the enemy’s cavalry in flank, our success will be certain.

Military history affords hundreds of instances in proof of this proposition. At one of the battles in Spain, for example, in 1809, fifteen hundred French horse, by charging four thousand Spanish cavalry in flank, completely cut it in pieces.

8. Cavalry never waits in position to be charged by cavalry. Its only safety is in meeting the charge with a violent gallop; it would otherwise be sure to be overthrown.

When hostile cavalries thus meet each other, there is usually but small loss on either side. A certain number of troopers are usually dismounted; but the colliding masses somehow ride through each other, allowing but little time for the exchange of points and cuts.

Thus cavalry can defend itself against cavalry only by attacking; which it must do even when inferior to the enemy in number.

9. To attack artillery, cavalry should be in three detachments; one-fourth to seize the guns; one-half to charge the supports; and the other fourth as a reserve.

The first party attacks in dispersed order, as foragers, trying to gain the flanks of the battery. The second party should manoeuvre to gain the flanks of the supports.

10. Where a cavalry attack can be masked, so as to operate as a surprise, a battery may be taken by charging it in front. The formidable Spanish battery in the Pass of Somosierra, was finally carried by a dash of Napoleon’s Polish Lancers upon it, suddenly profiting of a temporary fog or mist. But, in ordinary cases, when cavalry has to charge a battery in front, its fire should be drawn by our own guns or infantry, immediately before the charge begins.

11. In an attack on an intrenchment, the office of cavalry can rarely be any thing else than to repulse sorties from the work, and to cut off the enemy’s retreat from it.

VII. Its Charge

1. As cavalry acts effectively on the field of battle only by its charge, good cavalry of the line can be formed in no other way than by being exercised in this, its special and peculiar function.

On taking command of the Army of Italy in 1796, Bonaparte found the French cavalry to be entirely worthless. They had never been accustomed to charge, and he had the greatest difficulty in making them engage. Seeing the great importance of this arm, he determined to make good cavalry of them by compelling them to fight. So, in his attack on Borghetto, he sent his cavalry forward, with his grenadiers on their flanks, and his artillery close behind them. Thus enclosed, and led on by Murat to the charge, they attacked and routed that famous Austrian cavalry whose superiority they had so much dreaded. This was the first step in the formation of the splendid French cavalry to which Napoleon afterwards owed so many of his victories. And, at the battle of Hochstedt, on the Danube, in 1801, its superiority over the Austrian cavalry was, at last, completely established.

2. Cavalry charges

(1.) In line; but this only on even ground, and at short distances;

(2.) In column; and

(3.) As foragers, or in dispersed order. But this kind of charge is exceptional. It can rarely be used with safety against any but an uncivilized or an undisciplined foe.

3. A charge in one long continuous line should never be attempted. Such a charge will be usually indecisive, as it cannot be made with the necessary ensemble or unity. The success of a charge in line depends on the preservation of a well-regulated speed and of a perfect alignment; by means of which the whole line reaches the enemy at once. At the charging gait, this is rarely attainable; so that the charge in line, except at short distances, and over very even ground, usually degenerates into a charge by groups, or individual troopers, arriving successively. The most dashing riders, or those mounted on the swiftest horses, will naturally arrive first, and be overpowered by numbers.

4. A charge in deep column is also objectionable; its long flank exposing it too much to artillery fire and to the enemy’s cavalry.

But when cavalry is surprised, it must charge at once, in whatever order it happens to be, rather than hesitate or attempt to manoeuvre, for this would expose it to destruction.

5. A prompt and unhesitating obedience to the command to charge, without regard to the circumstances under which it is given, may sometimes lead to results unexpected even to the charging troops themselves.

One instance of this was related to me by an old officer of Napoleon’s favorite Fifth Cuirassiers. The regiment was on the left of the line of battle. Directly in front of it was an extensive marsh; beyond which rose an eminence, abrupt in front, but sloping gently towards the rear, the crest of which was crowned by formidable Austrian batteries. For two hours the cuirassiers had been standing in line, listening to the roar of battle on the right, and eagerly expecting a summons to go somewhere to engage the enemy. The very horses were neighing and pawing the ground, in their impatience to be off. Just then galloped up one of the Emperor’s aids, saying, “Colonel, the Emperor desires you to charge directly on the enemy’s batteries opposite your position.” The brave colonel, who was one of Napoleon’s personal favorites, though chafing at the prolonged inaction of his command, pointed to the marsh, and requested the officer to inform the Emperor of the obstacle in his front, with the existence of which his majesty, he said, was probably unacquainted. In a few minutes the officer came riding furiously back with a message to the colonel, that “if he did not immediately charge, the Emperor would come and lead the regiment himself.” Stung by this reproof, the colonel plunged his spurs into his horse’s flanks, and giving the command “Forward,” led his regiment, at full gallop, directly through the marsh upon the point that had been indicated.

The charge itself was, of course, a failure. The regiment finally struggled its way through the marsh to the opposite side, but leaving behind it a large number of gallant officers and men, who had sunk to rise no more; my informant being of the number who escaped.

But the result of this demonstration was most decisive. Seeing that the height on which the Austrians had planted their heavy batteries, and which commanded the entire ground, was the key of the battle, Napoleon had determined to wrest it from them, together with the batteries which crowned it. Accordingly, the evening before, he had dispatched a body of light infantry by a very circuitous route, to turn the position and attack the batteries in rear. He had accurately calculated the time the detachment would require to reach its destination; and when the moment arrived at which it should be ready to commence its attack, he ordered the cuirassiers to charge directly upon the position in front. The Austrian artillery, suddenly attacked in rear, and, at the same time, threatened with a cavalry charge in front, where it had deemed itself perfectly secure, tried to change the position of its pieces, so as to get a fire on its assailants from both directions. But it was too late; the temporary confusion into which it was thrown enabled the French infantry to carry all before it, and the height was won, with all its batteries.

So, at Waterloo, Sir Hussey Vivian’s brigade of Light Cavalry, which was marching in column by half squadrons, left in front, had begun to form up into line on the leading half squadron, when an order arrived from Wellington to charge. Instantly the charge was made, and, of course, in echelons of half squadrons, extending to the right. The effect of this was that a body of French cavalry on its right, then attacking the British line, was suddenly taken in flank and completely routed.

6. A charge in deep column may sometimes be made necessary by the nature of the ground, which, at the same time, protects its long flanks: as where, in our pursuit of the rebels after the battle of Nashville, in 1864, the Fourth United States Cavalry, approaching them over a narrow turnpike, made a vigorous charge in column of fours, which broke their centre, and, with the help of infantry skirmishers on the flanks, drove them from the ground.

7. When the ground is rugged, in order to lessen the number of falls, the rear-rank, in the charge, should open out six paces, closing up again at the last moment.

8. Cavalry advances to charge at a trot, or at a gallop. A fast trot is better than a gallop, as alignments are not easily kept at great speed. Experience has shown that the best distance from the enemy to begin the gallop, is about two hundred and sixty yards; thence steadily increasing to the maximum of speed. This gradual increase of speed is very important, to prevent the horses from being completely blown on reaching the enemy.

9. Cavalry should not charge by a wood, till it has been carried by our own infantry, if it can possibly be avoided.

At the battle of Kollin, in 1756, Frederick’s cavalry, pursuing the Austrians, was taken in flank by some Austrian infantry posted in a wood, and made to retire with great loss.

10. When cavalry is required to charge over unknown ground, it should be preceded by a few men thrown out to the front as skirmishers, in order to scout the ground to be passed over. The neglect of this precaution has sometimes led to great disaster.

At Talavera, two cavalry regiments, the First German Hussars and the Twenty-third Light Dragoons, were ordered to charge the head of some French infantry columns. When near the top of their speed they came suddenly upon a deep ravine, with steep sides. Colonel Arentschild commanding the Hussars, who was in front, at once reined up, and halted his regiment, saying: “I vill not kill my young mensch!” But the other regiment, commanded by Colonel Seymour, which was on its left, not seeing the obstacle in time, plunged down it, men and horses rolling over on each other in frightful confusion. Of the survivors, who arrived on the other side by twos and threes, many were killed or taken; and only one-half of the regiment ever returned.

So, at the battle of Courtrai, in 1302, from the French cavalry’s omitting to scout the ground they charged over, the Flemings won a great victory. All the elite of the French nobility and chivalry was destroyed, and gold spurs were collected by bushels on the field. It was the French Cannae. The Flemings were drawn up behind a canal, flowing between high banks, and hidden from view. The French rushing on at full gallop, all the leading ranks were plunged into the canal. The entire cavalry was thereby checked and thrown into irretrievable disorder, which extended to the infantry, in their rear. The Flemings, profiting by their confusion, crossed the canal at two points simultaneously, attacked them in flank, and completed their rout.

So, at the battle of Leipsic, in 1813, Murat, in his great cavalry charge on the Allied centre, had captured twenty-six guns, and was carrying all before him, when he pushed on to the village of Gulden Gossa, where the ground had not been reconnoitred, and could not be distinctly seen from a distance. Here the French found their career suddenly checked by a great hollow, full of buildings, pools of water, and clusters of trees; while the Allied infantry, from behind the various covers afforded by the ground, opened upon them a destructive fire. Being then suddenly charged in flank by the Russian cavalry, they were driven back with heavy loss; the Allies recapturing twenty of the twenty-six guns they had lost.

The troopers employed to scout the ground before a charge would not be in much danger from the enemy, who would hardly fire on a horseman or two, especially when expecting a charge.

11. Cavalry must never pursue, unless its supports are close at hand.

In pursuing, it must be circumspect, and not go too far. Union and order are indispensable; for, without them, a slight resistance may suffice to cause a repulse.

VIII. Its Attack on Infantry

First, as to its ATTACK GENERALLY.
Secondly, its attack ON SQUARES.


1. Cavalry must avoid distant engagements with infantry; in which the latter must always have the advantage.

2. The slightest cavalry charge on the flank of infantry will rout it.

3. As to a cavalry attack in front: If the infantry stand firm, the chances are against its success. If the infantry cannot be attacked in flank, the cavalry should therefore wait till it has been shattered by artillery, or has become exhausted, or demoralized, or till it begins to manoeuvre.

4. If the infantry be in line, or in column, cavalry should attack it in flank; if in square, at one of its angles; if in several squares, at one of its flank ones, so as to avoid a cross-fire from the other squares. If a flank square be broken, the next one to it, being no longer protected by the fire of any other square, may be attacked with the same prospect of success; and so on successively.

5. But if the hostile infantry have supporting cavalry, we must not charge in such a manner as to enable it to take us in flank.

6. To test the infantry about to be attacked, cavalry may pass a few hundred paces in its front, to threaten it, sending forward a few horsemen to fire, gallop forward, and raise a dust. If the infantry, instead of disregarding these movements, begin to fire, it will probably be broken, on the cavalry’s charging it at once and vigorously, whether in column or in line. But otherwise, if the infantry reserve its fire, and only sends out a few sharpshooters.

7. Ascending slopes, if not too steep, are not unfavorable to attacks on infantry; for their shots, as experience shows, will then mostly fly too high.

8. On a descending slope, cavalry charges down on infantry with terrible effect; as it then arrives with an impetus which nothing can stop.

At Waterloo, a column of French infantry was ascending a steep slope. Suddenly the Scotch Greys cavalry regiment dashed down upon it from above, rode over, and destroyed it.


1. Infantry squares are usually charged in open column; the distance between the subdivisions being a subdivision front and a few yards over; in order that each subdivision may have time to break into the square, or, if unsuccessful, to disengage itself and retire.

But the distances should never be so great as to allow the square to reload after firing a volley at the next preceding subdivision.

2. The leading subdivision will usually draw the fire of the square. If this is delivered at very short range, say at twenty paces, it will raise up a rampart of dead and wounded men and horses which will probably suffice to check the following subdivisions, and so repulse the charge. But an infantry square rarely reserves its fire so long; and if the fire is delivered at any considerable distance, no such effect will be produced.

3. A good formation to attack a square is said to be a column of three squadrons, with squadron front, at double distance; followed by a fourth squadron, in column of divisions or platoons, to surround the square, and make prisoners, if it is broken.

4. Before cavalry charges a square, it should be first shattered or demoralized by artillery fire, when this is practicable. In the absence of artillery, sharpshooting infantry skirmishers may, to a certain extent, supply its place.

5. A square should be attacked at one of its angles, which are obviously its weakest and most vulnerable points. But to cover a real attack on an angle, cavalry sometimes makes a false attack on the front of a square.

6. When squares are formed checkerwise, cavalry must attack a flank square, and not expose itself to a cross-fire by charging an interior one.

7. Cavalry charging a square firing irregularly will usually break it. But when the square reserves its fire, and pours in well-aimed volleys at short range, the charge will rarely succeed. The cavalry should, therefore, before charging, use every effort to draw the fire of the square, or of the fronts which threaten it. This is sometimes accomplished by sending forward a few skirmishers to fire on the square.

8. When one square fires to assist another, the firing square should be instantly charged, before it has time to reload.

9. To succeed, a cavalry charge should be made with a desperate, forlorn-hope recklessness, and with reiterated attacks on one point. If the fire has been delivered at very close range, though its effect has probably been destructive, the smoke will momentarily shut out the line of infantry from the horses’ view, thus removing the chief obstacle to their breaking through it. The survivors of the fire should therefore rush desperately on.

If the French attacks on the British squares at Quatre Bras had been made in this manner, instead of opening to the right and left, and diverging to a flank at the moment of closing, they would probably have succeeded.

But this sudden divergence is often the fault of the horses, which instinctively recoil before a serried line of infantry, with bayonets at the charge. Cavalry should, therefore, never be practised on the drill-ground in charging a square, as the horses would thereby acquire the habit of suddenly checking their course, or of diverging to a flank, on arriving at the enemy. This would so strengthen their natural instinct that they could never be got to break a square. Or, at least, when this manoeuvre is practised for the purpose of instruction, the horses used should never afterwards be taken into the field.

10. The cavalry most formidable to an infantry square are Lancers. Their lances, which are from eleven to sixteen feet long, easily reach and transfix the infantry soldier, while the sabres of the other cavalry are too short to reach him over the horse’s neck, and over the musket, lengthened by the bayonet. But Lancers are usually no match against other cavalry, who can parry and ripost before the lance can resume the guard.

11. When cavalry has succeeded in completely breaking a body of infantry, it may often inflict fearful slaughter upon them.

At the battle of Rio Seco, in Spain, after Lasalle’s twelve hundred horse had broken the Spanish infantry, they galloped at will among twenty-five thousand soldiers, some five thousand of whom they slew.

IX. General Remarks

1. Besides its uses on the field of battle, cavalry may render most important service in completing the destruction of beaten corps, or compelling their surrender, and so enable us to secure the great strategic objects of the campaign. Thus, after the battle of Waterloo, it was the Prussian cavalry that completed the dispersion of the French army, and prevented it from rallying. And, but for Napoleon’s ill fortune in respect to Grouchy, in that battle, he would, to all appearance, have succeeded in accomplishing his plan of campaign, which was, to separate the English from the Prussians, beat them in detail, and complete their destruction with his twenty thousand cavalry.

2. The battles of the late War of the Rebellion, the earlier ones, at least, were mostly indecisive. One chief cause of this was, that neither side had a sufficient force of true cavalry to enable it to complete a victory, to turn a defeat into a rout, and drive the enemy effectually from the field. The cavalry charges were generally such as mounted infantry could have just as well made; charges in which the pistol and carbine played the principal part, instead of the spur and sabre. It was not until the fight at Brandy Station, in June, 1863, that sabres were used, to any extent, at close quarters. Thus, neither of the contending armies was able to break up and disperse, destroy, or capture its enemy’s infantry masses, in the manner practised in Napoleon’s great wars, not having, to any considerable extent, that description of force called Cavalry of the Line, which alone is capable of effecting these results by its solid and compact formations, its skilful, yet rapid manoeuvring, and its crashing charges.

3. European cavalry of the line is divided into Heavy and Light. Heavy cavalry is heavily armed; that is, their weapons are larger and heavier than those of light cavalry, and to these weapons, carbines, in most of the corps, are added. Some of the corps wear steel or brass cuirasses; and the men and horses are of the largest size.

In Light cavalry, the only weapons are the sabre and pistol; and the men and horses are light and active, rather than strong and large.

Lancers are considered a medium between Heavy and Light cavalry.

4. Great as may be the advantages of a large force of regular cavalry of the line, there were serious objections to its being raised at the opening of the late war.

(1.) The theatre of war presented nowhere any of those wide and level plains so common in Europe, and on which cavalry masses are able to produce such decisive effects in battle. On the contrary, the ground was almost everywhere so rugged and mountainous, or else so densely wooded, as to be extremely unfavorable to the movements of cavalry of this description.

(2.) Since the introduction of the new rifled arms, exposing cavalry masses to a deadly fire at far greater distances than ever before known, a fire often reaching to the reserves, it seemed doubtful whether the manoeuvring and charging in heavy, compact masses, which formerly rendered cavalry of the line so formidable, would any longer be practicable.

(3.) The comparative cost of this kind of force is so great, that, if it had been raised and kept up on the scale required, the expense of this war, enormous as it has been, would have been vastly augmented. Three years are required for the thorough training and instruction of the men and horses; so that it would not have been until the fourth year of the war that we could begin, even, to reap the fruits of so enormous an outlay.

5. But to carry on any war successfully, what is needed, and is, in fact, indispensable, is an ample force of light cavalry, of a kind requiring comparatively but little time and training to fit it for the various and important duties devolving upon it in the field, and therefore far less expensive than cavalry of the line; and having all the discipline of this latter kind of force, though wanting its perfection of manoeuvre. Every army, or considerable detachment, must have enough of this kind of force with it to furnish what is requisite for Outpost duty, Patrols offensive and defensive, Escorts to trains, Foraging parties, Reconnoissances, and the various other purposes necessarily incidental to operations in the field; and in marches, all Advanced, Rear, and Flank guards should consist, in part, at least, of cavalry. Finally, this description of force is needed for the performance of those arduous, but most valuable, services often rendered by the quasi-independent bodies called Partisan Corps; services usually requiring great celerity of movement.

6. This kind of force being “the eyes and ears of an army,” it often contributes powerfully to the success of strategic operations.

In the campaign of 1813, Napoleon complained that, for want of light cavalry, he could get no intelligence of the enemy’s movements.

So, in the rebel campaign of 1863, culminating at Gettysburg, General Lee attributed his ignorance of our position and movements, which led to the failure of his operations, to his being destitute of this arm; Stuart’s cavalry, on which he depended for information, having got too far away from him.

In Pope’s campaign in 1862, the rebels, by their cavalry raid on Catlett’s Station, obtained possession of the commanding general’s correspondence, plans, and orders from Washington.

On the other hand, whilst keeping us informed of the enemy’s movements, an abundant light cavalry, active and well commanded, may be so used as to constitute an impenetrable screen of our own movements from the enemy, as effectual as would be a lofty and impassable mountain range.

Again, if we are greatly inferior to the enemy in cavalry, our own cavalry will have to keep itself within our infantry lines; and the consequence will be that the enemy will obtain control of the entire country around us, and so deprive us of all the supplies it contains.

As, besides this, cavalry is absolutely necessary for the protection of convoys, and, from its celerity of movement, is the kind of force best fitted for guarding our communications, it is evident that the subsistence of an army is dependent, to a great extent, upon this arm.

From what has been said in relation to the three arms, it is evident

1. That ARTILLERY, within the range of its fire, is powerful in preventing the enemy’s approach to it; but, only to a limited extent, can pursue and drive the enemy from his position; and that its function is, therefore, mainly DEFENSIVE.

2. That CAVALRY, by the impetuosity of its charge, is peculiarly fit for driving the enemy from his position; but, remaining in position itself, has but feeble power to prevent the enemy’s approaching it; and this, only by its carbine and pistol fire, which is far from effective; and that its function is, therefore, mainly OFFENSIVE.

3. That INFANTRY has great power, both in keeping the enemy at a distance by its fire and in driving him from his position with the bayonet; and that this arm is, therefore, both OFFENSIVE and DEFENSIVE.

4. That although artillery is mainly a defensive arm, it plays an important offensive part in the powerful assistance it renders to infantry, in shattering and disorganizing the enemy’s masses; thereby opening the way for our attacking columns.

5. That although cavalry is mainly an offensive arm, its defensive value is also very great in the protection it affords, in various emergencies, to the other arms, by its actual charge, or by its threatening position.

The special parts usually played in battle by the three arms respectively, may be briefly stated thus:

Artillery prepares the victory; Infantry achieves it; Cavalry completes it, and secures its fruits.