Traveling Household Cavalry


The horse detachment blog below brought to the fore the continuing role of the ceremonial horse cavalry units around the world, especially in nations at war.  An interesting article was published in the British press a couple of weeks ago on the household cavalry musical ride doing an exhibition in the Middle East.  I have planned a more complete description of the mounted Household cavalry in a future blog.  For now, check out the article, and especially the excellent photos.  Also enjoy the below youtube video of the world’s most famous mounted ceremonial formation.

Note:  Moving in this formation are about 105 mounted troops, counting officers, colors, and buglers (but not the band).  This basically shows you four troops (American platoons) of horse cavalry –roughly the equivalent of a squadron (American company) of traditional European cavalry.  Look at how much physical space this unit occupies and imagine it moving at a gallop across country at 30mph.  That’s one tenth of a regiment!  Now imagine a thousand (a full regiment) or four thousand (a division).  At Waterloo the French cavalry charge consisted of about 9,000 cavalry.  Makes the point of the powerful physical and physiological effect of cavalry on the historic battlefield.  Something that few if any individuals alive today have experienced.

Book Review: Normandy to Victory

Normandy to Victory : The War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges and the First U.S. Army, by Major William C. Sylvan and Captain Francis G. Smith Jr. (edited by John Greenwood), is an important book on U.S. Army operations in the European Theater during World War II.  Its greatest contribution is as resource for understanding many of the important operations of the war from the perspective of General Hodges and his headquarters.  It is also valuable as a firsthand account of leading soldiers in battle at the field army level.  This book is not for the uninitiated.  Truly appreciating the detail, nuance, and its value as a primary source, requires grounding in the history of the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II.   That said, for those with a serious interest in World War II history Normandy to Victory is a “must have” book.

What Counts in Foreign and National Security Policy

As I recently have been watching the release of CIA memos and who said what when briefed by the CIA, I’d just like the make the point that the quality of  the analysis and recommendations of regional and global foreign policy experts; the professionalism of  generals; and the bravery of  soldiers matter little  in comparison to the ebb and flow of domestic politics.  I illustrate this in my paper on the American experience occupying the former Confederate states after the American Civil War.  The momentum of domestic politics, dominated by domestic economic and social issues, really are the main influence on the general thrust  of American foreign policy.  Domestic policy trumps national security most of the time –especially after the emotion of combat has past and the country is faced with the tough and thankless business of post-conflict operations.  Soooo… that begs the question: what is the current direction of  American domestic policy and how does that effect American foreign policy? Specifically, how does the current economic fiasco and other issues effect our military operations in Iraq and Afghansitan?

Horse Cavalry Detachment



One winter morning many years ago, I was driving into work at Fort Hood Texas in a very dense fog.  It was about seven AM and still pretty dark.  I was coming in the eight lane main gate; traffic was very light and going slow because of the fog when a single horseman appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the eight lanes of traffic.  He was on an excited and jittery mount but was keeping  him under control with short pulls on the big army curb bit.  The horseman was in full Indian wars era winter cavalry field regalia:  long medium blue overcoat with cape thrown back and the yellow cavalry lining revealed; blue trousers with a yellow cavalry stripe tucked into tall black boots; dark Stetson with a yellow cavalry cord; black horse equipment including McClellan saddle, saddle bags, bed roll; and a saber and carbine hung from the saddle. 

The trooper held up his gauntleted arm signaling the traffic to stop and we all slowly came to a halt.  I was stopped at the head of the traffic line as the fog continued to swirl around us and the trooper settled his horse and watched the traffic impassively.  Suddenly, to our right, an entire detachment of cavalry came out of the fog in column of twos.  An officer and bright red and white guidon led the unit as it moved through the fog at a trot.  They quickly and noisily clattered across the hard surface road –about twenty troopers followed by a covered wagon drawn by four mules.  In a few seconds they were across the road and lost to sight in the fog and darkness.  Before I could reflect on what I had just seen, the road crossing guard, who was the trooper stopping the traffic, spun his horse and followed the trail of the column.  He too disappeared into the fog as quickly and suddenly as he had appeared.  It was a surreal introduction to the U.S. Army’s ceremonial 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment at Fort Hood Texas. 

The Horse Cavalry Detachment is a ceremonial unit that represents the Army’s cavalry tradition.  They recreate the cavalry as it appeared on the American plains in the 1870s and 1880s.  Though their look is somewhat “Hollywood,” as opposed to the authentic living history of many reenactor groups, they are very effective at evoking the spirit of the horse cavalry.  They are also unique in that they are all full time soldiers who train, maintain, and care for their horses and equipment on a full time basis very much in the time-honored tradition of horse cavalry.  It’s a positive statement of the value of tradition and history to U.S. Army that the unit continues to operate given the operational deployment tempo of the army.  In the last few years the 1st Cavalry Division  has completed three one year deployments to Iraq.  The detachment has a pretty nice website up and running which explains their purpose, equipment, and the variety of ceremonies in which they participate.

Book Review: Schoolbooks and Krags

Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1898-1902. John M. Gates. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973.

Gates is at his best discussing the American strategy. He effectively describes how the two aspects of the dual strategy of attraction and chastisement complimented each other. The book begins with the efforts of General Otis, the first commander, who did not have the military strength to accomplish his mission, vague guidance from the President, and few intelligence sources. Otis did not understand the strategy of the Philippine revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo. None-the-less, the American army quickly defeated the Filipinos in the conventional phase of combat in 1899. Gates then details how General Arthur MacArthur wrestled with the challenge of devising and executing a strategy aimed at defeating the Filipinos who had reverted to a deliberate stratagem of guerrilla warfare. MacArthur aimed at separating the insurgents from the civil population and then defeating them. This strategy required close cooperation with William Howard Taft, the U.S. civil administrator in the islands, and pro-American Filipinos. The book concludes with an analysis of how the entire strategy was almost undone by MacArthur’s replacement, General Adna Chaffee, as the Army, according to Gates, over-reacted to the Balangiga massacre. This reaction included the brutal Samar pacification campaign under General Jacob H. Smith.

Read complete review here.

War Horse Reviewed in Military Review

A very nice review by someone who knows both horses and military history:

WAR HORSE: A History of the Military Horse and Rider, Louis DiMarco, Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA, 432 pages, $29.95.

Louis DiMarco’s War Horse: A History of the Military Horse and Rider is a fascinating one-of-a-kind book that looks at military history through the evolving science of horse riding, training, and breeding. Its unique approach offers a fresh interpretation of classic military history from the ancients through operations in World War II.

War Horse is a remarkable book on many levels, beginning with the ancient Egyptians’ use of the chariot. DiMarco describes how the desire for increased mobility and economy drove the creation of the warrior on horseback and traces the evolution of horse breeds, horsemanship, tack, the evolution of cavalry warfare, and the contributions of cavalry to warfare: its tactics, operational art, and even grand strategies through the centuries. These developments produced operational and tactical mobility, shock, and firepower. DiMarco illustrates through battle and campaign narratives how the great captains skillfully translated an understanding of mounted forces into battlefield success. He also describes how a lack of appreciation for horses and mounted forces could lead to failure.

The book’s ability to penetrate to a level of significant detail, overturn repeated myths, summarize suc­cinctly, and back up its judgments and conclusions is significant. When I began teaching at SAMS I wanted a book like War Horse to educate the officer corps on the constant and turbulent evolution of opera­tional art. The book demonstrates how ideas about doctrine, weapons, branches of service, and organiza­tional designs evolve in a messy but inexorable way.

DiMarco is uniquely qualified to write about horse cavalry. He is a retired Army officer and has served in positions from cavalry troop through joint staff. He served as a doctrine writer at the Armor School, specialized in reconnaissance doc­trine and urban and counterinsur­gency warfare at the Combined Arms Command, and is currently teaching military history at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leav­enworth. Most importantly, DiMarco is an accomplished horseman who has actively owned and trained horses for more than 20 years.

As a horse book and horse cav­alry book War Horse is in a class of its own. The natural sentiment toward the horse and horse cavalry doesn’t get in the way of solid and deeply researched history. The book provides many detailed facts about horse types and breeds not often found in books on horse cavalry and delves deeply into the details of riding “tack” and cavalry weapons. I find the battle reconstructions more credible due to DiMarco’s research and knowledge of horsemanship, tack, and weapons.

This is my kind of history reading: interesting and intellectually stimulat­ing. It’s the kind of book I like to move through slowly, mulling over the con­tent, fitting the pieces into the messy filing system of my mind. In short, the book is a fascinating and detailed account of an important contributor to human history—the war horse.

 BG Huba Wass de Czege, USA, Retired, Easton, Kansas

Military Review, May-June 2009

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Get rid of West Point? I think not.

A small tempest has been stirred up by Tom Ricks in the Washington Post and on his blog when he wrote about the service academies.  The title of the Post article was “Why We Should Get Rid of West Point,” where he opined regarding the necessity of the service academies.

As my previous blog on West Point Founder’s Day indicates, I’m a grad and I obviously disagree with Tom on this issue.  I think the service academies, for all their faults (and over the years I have articulated many) are value added to the services, particularly West Point and the Army, with which I am familiar.  The great challenge at the service academies is to remember they are not just academic institutions, but rather, they are academic institutions whose purpose is to provide top quality leaders to our military.  Recent reforms at WP indicate to me that the WP leadership understands what the army needs for leaders, and WP is doing just that.

Others have taken on Ricks on the particulars of his arguement so I won’t do that.  I would like to point out, however, that WP is a tier one undergraduate college.  That’s not the Army’s ratings but how both Newsweek (#1 public liberal arts and #5 undergraduate engineering program) and the Forbes magazine (#6 overall) rate it.  It is a great quality education and produces talented individuals.  The difference between WP and other top tier colleges, is that WP’s mission requires its  alumni to use their talent as army officers in  service to the nation and taking care of soldiers.  I think WP, though not a perfect institution, does that well, and the Army, soldiers, and tax payers benefit because of that.