Cavalry Raids –A Uniquely American Tactic

Okay… the main reason for this post is that I was looking for an opportunity to post the intro to John Ford and John Wayne‘s Horse Soldiers –which I like as much as the movie.  That said….
The cavalry raid, as a tactic, in its modern form (since the early modern period –16th Century) seems to be almost exclusively an operational tool of the American cavalry of the American Civil War.  European armies, despite huge cavalry components and many very capable cavalry leaders, do not seem to have been inclined to take advantage of the mobility and physiological effects of bold independent mounted operations.
There are precedents for cavalry raids in European military history.  The Europeans had the experience, the decidedly negative experience, with the cavalry raids of the Mongols in the 13th Century.  Mongol armies, especially the offensive strike forces, were fast moving mounted organizations that could hit hard and then seemingly disappear in the oceans of the steppe.  In the winter of 1240-41, two Mongol tumen numbering 10,000 warriors each, roamed through what is modern day Poland for several months, avoiding decisive battle and destroying villages, towns, and even defended cities. 
The European’s own experience in the medieval period included the extensive use of the chavauchee –or raid.  Virtually all medieval European armies conducted chavauchee and they were a feature of warfare in all regions throughout the period.  The English were perhaps the most notorious and successful practitioners of the tactic.  The chavauchee had numerous purposes.  One of the most common uses of the tactic was to subjugate an area to extract tribute and taxes to support local military forces.  Chavauchee terrorized and pillaged a region belonging to an adversary in order to deny those resources and the support of the people to the adversary.  A chavauchee could also serve as a means of forcing the enemy army into an open battle.  Finally, it was a means of obtaining loot and booty for the coffers of the raiding force.  More than one of these justifications and sometimes all of them could be present in a single mission.  This type of operation, the mounted raid, disappears from European warfare after the medieval period and never returns. 

Stuarts Cavalry Raid, from Harpers Weekly

Stuart's Cavalry Raid, from Harper's Weekly

Some might argue that the American cavalry achieved only mixed results with their raids.  Famously, General Robert E. Lee desperately missed General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry who were on an inconclusive raid, during his 1863 offensive into Pennsylvania.  Many blame the mishandling of Stuart’s cavalry for the decisive defeat of the Confederate forces at Gettysburg.  Still, Stuart’s earlier raids, and Union Generals Phil Sheridan and James H. Wilson successful operations in the last year of the war, point to the potential for decisive operational effects from cavalry raids.

Where did the concept of raiding come from?  American generals were students of the Napoleonic wars but there was no precedent in the Napoleonic period for large cavalry raids.  The idea that purely romantic notions of chivalry inspired by Southern antebellum culture may have inspired the idea begs the question of why decidedly unromantic Union commanders like Phil Sheridan copied the idea.  Other historians believe that their association with plains Indians in the years before the Civil War inspired American cavalry commanders  Regardless of the origin of the idea, there was enough success associated with it that it should have become a lesson for European cavalry.European cavalry also modeled themselves on the Napoleonic period.  This, combined with their strict conservativism, made them reluctant to try anything new.  European cavalry spent the period from the end of the Napoleonic period until World War I perfecting their ability to execute the massed mounted charge in the tradition of cavalry employment at Waterloo.  They especially were reluctant to learn anything from the American Civil War.  Therefore, they not only unwilling to consider cavalry raiding but also such other uniquely American mounted innovations as the pistol charge and dismounted combat with breech-loading carbines.  Because of the unwillingness to learn, European cavalry never attempted to emulate the independant mounted operations of the Stuart, Sheridan and Wilson, and the modern mounted cavalry raid remained a uniquely American tactic.



Published in: on March 29, 2009 at 8:34 am  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

German Riding Badge: Das Reiterabzeichen



In 1930 the German Warmblood Association created a bronze, silver, and gold rider’s badge, Das Reiterabzeichen,  to encourage increased equestrian knowledge and horsemanship.  The bronze and sliver levels were awarded after demonstrated horsemanship and knowledge of riding theory, anatomy, and horsemastership.  Since the Army was the largest equestrian organization in the country, Rittmeisters (cavalry captains) and artillery captains who were squadron or battery commanders were authorized to administer the tests and award the badges to civilians and to soldiers.

According to German cavalry historian Klaus Richter, the army made little use of the badges.  This may have been because during the same period the army was in the midst of a dramatic increase in size and modernization program encouraged by the Nazis.  It also may have been because military riders, as professionals, did not see a need for a badge to represent what was already represented by their rank and branch of service.  It may have been that the testing for and wearing the badges was beneath the dignity of cavalrymen and horse artillerymen.

Since it was originally conceived as a civilian sports award before the Nazis came to power, it was one of the few German military qualification badges of the Nazi era that did not have a military design or include the swastika insignia.

Riding Badge Certificate

Riding Badge Certificate

The modern Riding Badge is still issued by the German Equestrian Association (Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung) and still must be earned by meeting strict criteria judged by a certified official.  It looks exactly the same as the World War II and earlier version.  At the copper level, level IV, the modern badge is awarded to beginner riders and is used primarily as a motivational tool to encourage a continued interest in horses.  The bronze and higher requirements are more stringent.  For example, a bronze level award requires successfully completing the equivalent of a USDFlevel 2 dressage test and jump course with jumps and jump combinations ranging up to 4 feet in height.  There is also a written and oral test on horsemastership. 

The degree of control of all horse activity in Germany has no parallel in the United States.  Certainly much of that control, especially in the area of stock management and breeding, goes against the grain of American principles of free markets and individual choice.  However, the ability to establish national standards in horsemanship and horsemastership creates industry standards by which one can judge riding instructors, individual ability, and stable and training facilities.  It also provides a national standard against which amateur horseman can measure themselves and towards which they can work improve their horsemanship.  The U.S. Pony Club standards are probably the only U.S. measure which is similar.

German Luftwaffe Officer Wearing the Riding Badge
World War II Luftwaffe Officer Wearing the Riding Badge


Army Fox Hunting

100_1808On a gorgeous spring day there isn’t much better than moving across country at a gallop following the fast moving voices of fox hounds.  As Churchill once said “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”  For our family, like many army horse families in Kansas for over a hundred years, weekends revolve around fox hunting.  The Fort Leavenworth Hunt (FLH) is the only remaining active military fox hunt in the world.  Soldiers began hunting withhounds in eastern Kansas soon after Fort Leavenworthwas established in 1827.  The organized hunt at Leavenworth was formally established 1926 and continued to 1941.  It shut down during World War II and was restarted in 1964 and today is a certified hunt of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA).   Before World War II almost every major post in the army operated its own hunt.  Some of the major hunts were the Infantry Hunt (Fort Benning, GA), the Cavalry Hunt (Fort Riley, KS), the Artillery Hunt (Fort Sill, OK), and the 1st Cavalry Divisiion Hunt (Fort Bliss, TX).

Jonathan Wainwright as MFH.

Jonathan Wainwright as MFH.

Many of the famous officers of World War II were members of the Fort Leavenworth Hunt during their time at the fort as students in the Command and General Staff College in the 1920s and 1930s.  General Jonathan Wainright was one of the first Masters of Fox Hounds.  General Lucian Truscott was a particularly active member of the staff in the 1930s, and was joined in the hunt by his entire family.  Just before World War II, one of the Masters was Colonel Charles Reed who later led the famous raid to save the Lipizzan mares in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war.  The hunt staff before World War II was provided by the troopers of the famed 10thCavalry Regiment, “Buffalo Soldiers,” a squadron of whom garrisoned at Fort Leavenworth.

Current Joint MFH at FLH, COL Joyce DiMarco

Current Joint MFH at FLH, COL Joyce DiMarco

Today, over 80 years since it began, the hunt it continues to combine the strong traditions of military horsemanship and fox hunting on Fort Leavenworthand the surrounding countryside.  The hunt includes over 100 active duty, retired military, and civilian families and individual members.  The membership includes veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq, Desert Storm and Vietnam.  Numerous hunt members are currently deployed, have family deployed, or are preparing to deploy.  The hunt is a welcome interaction with nature, animals, and friends, and a great diversion from the pressure of the Army’s operational tempo.

The Hunt meets least twice a week in season from early October until early April using a pack of American Fox Hounds maintained on Fort Leavenworth with the assistance of the Army Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) division.  The game in the Fort Leavenworth area includes coyote and red fox and the hunt rarely returns without a viewing and run (seeing the game and giving chase).  The purpose of the hunt is not to kill the game, but rather the sport of hunting and the chase.  The hunting area is huge and rugged and the game rarely have any trouble eluding the hounds and hunt field.  However, if the game is cornered the huntsman calls off the hounds.  During the off-season the Hunt sponsors trail rides and horse shows.

The Fort Leavenworth Hunt is a small vestigeof the brown shoe horse powered army of the first half of the twentieth century that is surviving and thriving into the twenty-first century.  It is a strong and functioning, not just ceremonial, link between today’s soldiers and their history.  Interestingly, as an active MWR activity, it operates completely in the black and consistently returns a small profit to the Army to use to support other MWRactivities.  The hunt is a great example of how with a little nurturing, military history and tradition can thrive in the army despite all the pressures on our forces today.

FLH Hunting in Kansas

FLH Hunting in Kansas

What’s in a saber?










Does anyone know, or care, what a USAF officer’s dress saber looks like?  I’m not sure if they do.  And, I’m not sure its important. 

But maybe it is.

What started me on this train of thought is two things. First, I managed to purchase a very nice, but badly maintained USAF Academy cadet dress saber (before and after pictures above).  I always wanted one of these but after losing two USMA cadet sabers in football bets with the USAFA I gave up on it.   It cleaned up very well and I am very happy with how it looks and especially that I got it for a small fraction of the price of what a new one costs (though I would rather have won it in a bet as per the original plan).  

Second, my oldest daughter is now in AFROTC and looking at eventually a commission in the USAF. 

That got me wondering what a USAF saber, not a cadet saber, looks like.  After a bit of research I found out that the two sabers are essentially the same.  Actually, the USAFA saber is the  USAF saber.  The only difference is that on the blade the USAFA saber has etched “U.S. Air Force Academy,” while the USAF saber says “U.S. Air Force.”  From this I can draw a couple of conclusions.

1.  The USAF, as an institution, does not put a premium on its history.  If it did, why would it adopt a ceremonial weapon that is not related to its (the USAF) history?  A ceremonial saber is a way that members of a service connect with their past, and it reminds them they represent the history of the future.  Both perspectives are important to sustaining morale and esprit in military organizations.  The RAF has its own unique saber and their history and linage is no more important than that of the USAF.

2. The USAFA saber design compliments the mission and role of the USAFA and USAF (in the details of the design) and includes a nod to the institutional history of West Point (which saber the overall style closely replicates) which was used as an early model for the concept of the USAFA.  These are understandable and in fact laudable characteristics of the USAFA saber.

3.  Probably the USAF copied the USAFA saber design because it was easy and cheap. 

4.  Because something is easy and cheap doesn’t mean that its right.  In fact, most often it means that a more difficult right is being avoided.

5.  The USAF, if it truly values its history should design and contract for a ceremonial officer’s saber that represents the USAF, not the USAFA.

Interestingly, the Naval Academy, and Navy officers share the same sword.  However, unlike the USAF, the USNA adopted the standard naval officer’s sword, rather than the other way around.  Thus, the USNA and the USN officer’s sword share the history of the USN.

My recommendation is that the USAF adopt a unique USAF  officer’s ceremonial saber.  That its design be loosely based on the U.S. Army’s officer 1902 dress saber (as a nod to the 40+ years the the service was part of the army) and the RAF saber, but modified to be distinctly American Air Force.  The modifications would include a USAF script on the blade, a blue/grey wire wrapped sharkskin hilt, and a carved eagle pommel.  Such a saber would be unique and truly indicate not only that the USAF was a seperate service deserving of its own ceremonial regalia, but also it would demonstrate that the USAF had a unique and proud history –one that today’s USAF honors and perpetuates for the future.

This might seem an inconsequencial issue with two wars going on and the country in an economic tailspin (note the aeronautical reference :).  But in the USAF’s multi-billion dollar budget it probably would cost a few thousand dollars to have Weyersberg, Kirschbaum & Co (WKC) design the sword.  USAF officer’s would privately purchase them.  So, for almost nothing, the USAF create’s a part of history which, like the sabers of the other services, will be passed from airman to airman  for centuries.  That’s a good deal in any economy!

Horse Soldier Theme Song

Corb Lund, Canadian Country Western singer who I just discovered, sings the perfect theme song for this blog.  See the video here:

The song is from his album, Horse Soldier!  Horse Soldier! and includes several cavalry oriented tunes including I wanna Be in the Calvary.

See a review of the album here.

The U.S. Army General Staff:Where Is It in the Twenty-first Century?

A couple of years ago LTC Paul Yingling wrote an article entitled “A Failure in Generalship,” very critical of the U.S. Army general officer corps and also blaming the generals for what at the time was looking like a debacle in Iraq. 

Thinking about it, I wrote an article that, while not discounting the failures of many general officers in Iraq, took a different view:

A Myriad of problems plagued the U.S. army in the first few years of operations in Iraq.  At the eleventh hour General Petraeus is leading a new counterinsurgency doctrine inspired “surge” campaign that may save the entire war effort.  However, the question must be asked –why has the war effort of the most sophisticated army in the world come down to a final moment “Hail Mary” pass that is reliant on the genius of an individual commander for victory?  The answer is that the U.S. army has experienced a crisis of command.   Pundits have gradually come to the conclusion that the performance of U.S. generalship and senior leadership has been mediocre at best and at worst largely responsible for the problems associated with prosecuting the war in its initial years.  Recently army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling wrote: “These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America’s general officer corps.” Yingling’s analysis is echoed by military affairs analysts such as Ralph Peters and Douglas McGregor.  Even Chief of Staff of the Army, General George Casey allowed that “we don’t do as good a job as we need to training our senior leaders to operate at the national level.”  However, mediocre generalship alone does not account for the initial uninspired reactive prosecution of the war.  Also contributing to the inconsistent, and ineffectual prosecution of the war is the absence of a professional corps of general staff officers operating in support of the senior leadership.

Thanks to the Small Wars Journal for publishing this article!
See comments by best selling author and journalist Tom Ricks on the article here.

Cavalry Domination of the U.S. Army :)

Recently, while working on a project on the Philippines I came across this comment by historian Stuart C. Miller: 

“The president was enormously biased in favor of the cavalry and even took time from his busy schedule to rehash tactics and training for horse-borne soldiers with his new chief of staff.”

The president was Theodore Roosevelt and the chief of staff of General Samuel Baldwin Marks Young.  Young began his army career during the Civil War where he served in the infantry.  After the war he was commissioned in the 8th Cavalry and ultimately as a colonel commanded the 3rd Cavalry.  He became the chief of staff of the Army in 1903.  There followed a string of cavalry chiefs of staff.  Roosevelt appointed five chiefs and four were cavalrymen.  In total, by the time Marshall became Chief of Staff, 7 of 15 army leaders could be considered cavalrymen.  The list follows:

Samuel Baldwin Marks Young, Cavalry, 1903

Adna Romanza Chaffee, Cavalry, 1904

John Coalter Bates, Infantry, 1906

James Franklin Bell, Cavalry, 1906

Leonard Wood, 1910, Medical Corps (Cavalry), 1910 *

William Wallace Wotherspoon, Infantry, 1914

Hugh Lenox Scott, Cavalry, 1914

Tasker Howard Bliss, Artillery, 1917

Peyton Conway March, Infantry, 1918

John Joseph Pershing, Cavalry, 1921

John Leonard Hines, Infantry, 1924

Charles Pelot  Summerall, Artillery, 1926

Douglas MacArthur, Engineer, 1930

Malin Craig, Cavalry, 1935

George Catlett Marshall, Infantry, 1939

During most of this period the cavalry never made up more than about 1/3 of the army’s regiments; and in WWI a considerably smaller portion of the the total force.  Such a huge number of cavalry officers commanding the army could not but help having a strongly influence on the way the army organized and fought for many years –including World War II.

 *Note:  I count Leonard Wood as a cavalryman even though he was offically carried on the regular army rolls as a medical officer: He won his Congressional Medal of Honor while serving as a line troop officer with the 4th Cavalry, and was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers based on service as the commander of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and as a cavalry brigade at Santiago.

The General, Horses, and Leadership

enhs1019majoreisenhower1935General and President Dwight David Eisenhower is one of the famous leaders in American military history.  He is known for his compassion and calm in the face of adversity.  Eisenhower was an infantry officer but made his reputation as an exceptional staff officer and planner.  Few people know that “Ike” was also an more than average horseman.  Eisenhower, like all officers of his generation, had to learn to ride as part of his professional requirements, but he had a more than average affinity for animals.  Eisenhower’s abilities as a horseman and his ability to relate to the animal is described in his memoir At Ease:  Stories I tell Friends.  In this very readable autobiography of his personal and professional life Ike describes his military mount “Blackie” who he rode during his two year assignment in Panama.  Eisenhower trained the horse in what today would be called basic dressage movements as well as “tricks” such as following him on command whenever he dismounted.  Eisenhower believed that working with animals could teach leadership skills important to army officers.  He stated in his memoir that “in teaching skills, in developing self-confidence, the same sort of patience and kindness is needed with horses as with people.”  Some biographers believe that the horse “Blackie” taught Eisenhower as much as the officer taught the horse.  One author goes so far to assert that the horse was instrumental to helping Eisenhower to get over the death of his son the previous year and may have saved his marriage.  It is certain the horse “Blackie” was an exceptional part of Eisenhower’s life.  In his memoirs he writes about “Blackie” over six pages –more pages than he devotes to any single human, including all the heads of states and famous generals, he met in his long career.

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 4:03 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , ,