ARMOR-CAVALRY: Part 1; Regular Army and Army Reserve/Indian Wars Period

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  • At the end of the Civil War the ranks of the Regular cavalry regiments were thin indeed, as were those of the other Regular regiments. Of the 448 companies of cavalry, infantry, and artillery authorized, 153 were not organized, and few, if any, of those in being were at full strength. By July 1866 this shortage had eased since many of the members of the disbanded Volunteer outfits had by then enlisted as Regulars. By that time, however, it became apparent in Washington that the Army, even at full strength, was not large enough to perform all its duties. Consequently, on 28 July Congress authorized 4 additional cavalry regiments and enough infantry companies to reorganize the existing 19 regiments- then under two different internal organizations- into 45 regiments with 10 companies each. After this increase there were 10 regiments of cavalry, 5 of artillery, and 45 of infantry. Cavalry companies accounted for 20 percent of the total number of company-sized organizations. The Regular Army's authorized strength of approximately 57,000 officers and men was then more than double what it had been at the close of the war. The whole arrangement was remarkable because it was the first time in the nation's history that the Regular establishment had been increased substantially immediately after a war.
  • Recruiting for the increase began at once. Emphasis was placed upon securing veteran Volunteers before they left the service. The officers were selected from both Volunteers and Regulars; each candidate was required to have had at last two years of honorable service in the Civil War.
  • The new cavalry regiments, numbered 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th, were organized under the same tables as the 6 already in existence. A regiment consisted of 12 companies formed into 3 squadrons of 4 companies each. Besides the commanding officer who was a colonel, the regimental staff included 7 officers, 6 enlisted men, a surgeon, and 2 assistant surgeons. Each company was authorized 4 officers, 15 noncommissioned officers, and 72 privates. A civilian veterinarian accompanied the regiment although he was not included in the table of organization.
  • The 9th and 10th Cavalry were composed of Negro enlisted men and white officers. Their organization differed from the others in that each had an assigned chaplain whose duties included instructing the enlisted men in fundamental school subjects. At that time and until 1901, chaplains were normally assigned to Army posts.
  • During the Civil War, some cavalry companies began to call themselves troops. For many years the smallest unit for administrative purposes in the cavalry was officially the company. The word troop had first officially been used in an act of 17 July 1862, which prescribed the organization of a "company or troop." The next step came when the revised regulations of 1873 omitted company. Yet for almost ten more years the U.S. Army had cavalry companies. By 1881 many units were using the newer term, and in 1883 all were directed to use it. Still later, however, it was not unusual for both terms to be used in the same regiment.
  • Another important provision of the act of 28 July 1866 was the authorization of a corps of Indian Scouts as an integral part of the Army. Before 1866, friendly Indians had often been employed as Army guides on the frontier, but they were not officially a part of the establishment. Under the new arrangement 1,000 Indians could be enlisted as scouts in the Indian country. They were apportioned to the various commands and continued to be used in varying numbers for about fifty years. They were last employed in the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916. Most commanders found the scouts to be excellent light cavalrymen.
  • Among the peacetime problems the Army helped to solve, those occurring in the Great Plains and the Far West most needed the services of the mounted arm. By 1868 the bulk of the cavalry was in the west. Ninety-two companies were stationed among 59 posts within the vast area from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande and from Kansas to California. The Plains Indians who inhabited much of this area were splendid riders. They traveled and fought on horseback with a skill that gained the respect of the U.S. cavalrymen. They had mobility and speed, and since these features were characteristic of American cavalry, mounted soldiers were a more effective force than infantry in employment against them. The cavalrymen pursued marauding Indians on horseback, and if the chase ended, as it usually did, in a dismounted fight, the cavalrymen were trained for that as well.
  • During the years immediately following the Civil War, the Army was indispensable to the opening of the Plains area. The numerous discoveries of precious metals, the availability of cheap land, and the construction of wagon roads and railroads brought more and more settlers to the new west. All needed military protection since the Indians resisted the encroachment of white society. The many posts established ahead of settlements, and abandoned when the frontier had moved beyond them, testify to the fact that the Army continuously cleared the way for civilization.
  • The fluid condition of the frontier caused most of the Army's work to be performed by small units. Usually a company of infantry and one of cavalry garrisoned a post, but often a single company constituted the only military protection for miles. One officer wrote that his men, few in number, kept horses saddled at all times to be ready for the danger, which was ever-present. In 1882 the troops of the 10 cavalry regiments were dispersed among 55 posts in the Indian country. The posts having the largest mounted forces were located in the Departments of Missouri and Texas. The 1st and 5th Cavalry were the most widely dispersed, troops of the 1st occupying 10 stations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California, and those of the 5th 7 posts in Wyoming and Nebraska.
  • Such fragmentation made serious training for a foreign war impossible. Even though the country was well insulated and did not seem to be threatened by foreign powers, the high command recognized as a dangerous liability the inability to concentrate and train its units. Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, commander of the Division of the Pacific 1882-83 and of the Division of Missouri 1883-86, described the Army as a mere police force. Beginning in the 1880's, to offset the evils of fragmentation, schools were established to give intensive training. The first of these was the School of Application for Infantry and Cavalry founded at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1881. Here, graduates of West Point put to practical application the theories they had learned at the Academy. Here, also, came student officers detailed from the field to improve the knowledge of their profession. The school troops came from the four companies of infantry and four of cavalry, plus the one light battery of artillery, which garrisoned the post. Twenty years later the school was expanded into the General Service and Staff College and opened to officers of all branches; today it is the Command and General Staff College.
  • In 1887 Congress appropriated $200,000 for a school at Fort Riley, Kansas, to instruct enlisted men of cavalry and light artillery, but five years went by before the Cavalry and Light Artillery School was formally established. Once it opened its doors, however, complete regimental troops and batteries trained there, as did recruits before they joined a regiment. In the years that followed, the school changed names several times, in 1907 becoming the Mounted Service School; in 1919, the Cavalry School; on 1 November 1946, the Ground General School; and in 1950, the Army General School. The school was discontinued in May 1955.
  • When first established, the School of Application for Infantry and Cavalry and the Cavalry and Light Artillery School were simply military posts with a training responsibility added. The department commander could order the men at the post off to duty at any time, but while not otherwise employed the garrisons formed the basis for practical instruction that enabled the officers and men who participated to study the duties of the soldier in garrison, in camp, and on the march.
  • The U.S. cavalry did not fight against a formally organized foe during the period of 1866-91, but doctrine and drill did evolve for use should such an enemy appear. The foundation of all the rules was the basic thought that cavalrymen must be drilled as infantry and must at all times be prepared to fight on foot. Such a provision was no more than a natural extension of Civil War experience. Instructions for mounted cavalry charges were also included.
  • A rather startling alteration occurred when the cavalry in 1873 adapted the Infantry Tactics, accepted by the infantry in 1867, as its drill manual. This system, prepared by Maj. Gen. Emory Upton, altered previous teaching because it based troop evolutions upon movements by fours. These movements were suited to drill with horses since they allowed room for the mounts to maneuver where earlier ones had not. The cavalry continued to drill by the infantry system until late in 1891, when the War Department issued separate sets of drill regulations for the cavalry, infantry, and artillery. For the cavalry, the squadron consisted of not more than four and not less than two troops, and the troop in marching was divided into two, three, or four platoons, depending upon the number of fours.
  • Improvement in troop distribution came about very slowly. During the late 1880's subjugation of most of the Indians and completion of many miles of railroad made possible the concentration of larger forces at fewer posts. Unfortunately, cavalry did not profit to the same degree as infantry. Indeed, until the outbreak of the War with Spain in 1898, all the cavalry units except one squadron at Fort Myer, Virginia, and one at Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, were still stationed in the west. In that area, 92 troops remained divided among 31 posts. In many instances, as before, one troop formed the entire garrison of a post; at others there were as many as four troops; the average was two.
  • From 1866 until 1901 no new cavalry regiments were added to the Regular Army. There were, however, some alterations in regimental organization. In the major reduction of the Army in 1869-70, the cavalry companies lost a few noncommissioned officers, but for six years thereafter the authorized strength and organization of the companies were unchanged. In the meantime, campaigns against the Indians continued and commanders clamored for more mounted troops. At the time cavalry still constituted about one-fifth of the entire Army, roughly the same ratio as in France and Germany.
  • In June 1876 the Sioux wiped out Col. George A. Custer and nearly half (5 companies) of the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn. Partly as a result of this catastrophe, Congress voted a permanent increase in the mounted force. The new law actually cut 5,000 from the total number of enlisted men in the Army as a whole, but added 2,500 to the cavalry units employed against the Indians. Each company so employed could have 100 enlisted men, provided the total Army strength of 25,000, then authorized, was exceeded by no more than 2,500. The maximum 100-man cavalry company continued until 1890, but few units reached the authorized strength and fewer maintained it.
  • By 1890 the abatement of the Indian threat brought about the first reduction in cavalry since the Civil War. Troops L and M of all regiments were disbanded and the number of privates in each of the other companies was reduced to 44, in effect a reduction of about 50 percent.
  • The next year part of the cut was restored in an experiment that attempted to integrate Indian soldiers into Regular Army units. The primary object was to give employment to a considerable number of warriors from the most dangerous tribes. Troops L of the 1st through the 8th Cavalry were reactivated with Indian enlisted personnel drawn, as nearly as possible, from the area in which each regiment was serving. For example, Troop L, 1st Cavalry, in Montana was filled in a very short time by members of the Crow tribe. That fall (1891), the regimental commander reported that the new troopers possessed all the characteristics and traits essential to good light cavalry. Nevertheless, due partly to the language barrier and partly to the general attitude that existed between the two races, the experiment failed and the last unit of this type, Troop L, 7th Cavalry, was disbanded in 1897.
  • Changes in the arms, uniforms, and accouterments of cavalry were few and slow. The large supply of equipment on hand in 1865, sufficient to equip the regiments for a number of years, delayed readjustments. The Spencer repeater carbines, furnished the horseman during the war, were gradually replaced after 1873 by the converted single-shot Springfield rifle and carbines of the same pattern, both .45-caliber. In the category of hand guns, a few .45-caliber Colt revolvers, using metallic cartridges, were purchased in 1871-72 for testing. These revolvers became standard and remained so until replaced in 1894 by the smaller caliber .38.
  • Brig. Gen. George Crook, the Indian fighter and peacemaker, improved the logistics of the Indian Wars when he discarded wagon trains in favor of pack mules and thus could usually have supplies at hand. There was no waiting for the trains to catch up because the mules, each carrying about 200 pounds, were a part of the column.
  • Although at the beginning of the Civil War cavalry horses were scarce in the Union Army, the shortage was soon corrected and at the war's end the Army had a surplus of horses of all classes, including those for the cavalry. During the year following the close of the war, the Army sold more than 104,000 horses of all classes at public auction, and as of 30 June 1866 it still had at depots 4,645 surplus serviceable horses, of which 3,829 were for the cavalry. During the year 1866, only 150 more were purchased and they were for use in the Department of California where it was wiser to buy than to risk transporting from the east.
  • In 1883 the Army began to purchase horses in open market (from farmers, ranchers, and others) instead of by contract as had been the custom. This system appealed to cavalry officers and they fought for its retention when the contract method was resumed two years later. Their attitude can be understood, for in open-market procurement cavalry officers inspected and purchased horses for the cavalry, while under the contract method the Quartermaster General's Department procured and inspected all types of horses for the Army. Naturally cavalrymen, believing that only cavalrymen could select cavalry horses, objected to the change.
  • Cavalry officers also fought for the establishment of a remount station where all cavalry horses would be broken and trained before being shipped to the troops, and where better horses could be bred. General Crook's description of a shipment of forty horses received in his command in 1884 shows why the officers felt as they did. One of the forty bucked itself to death, another died of an obscure disease, a third gave out on the road, and sixteen were condemned by a board of officers of the regiment receiving them.
  • Giesboro and other depots that had made possible a ready supply of mounts during the Civil War were closed when the Cavalry Bureau was abolished on 4 October 1866. Then Carlisle, Pennsylvania, became the principal cavalry depot, but was important as a station for collecting recruits rather than for breaking and training horses. Even four years later in 1870 when the principal cavalry depot was established at St. Louis Arsenal in the midst of what was then the horse country, the depot was not important as a remount station. Thus, despite the arguments for a more effective remount service, no stations were established for this purpose until almost forty years later. In May of 1908 Congress authorized the establishment of a remount service, and the War Department turned over to the Quartermaster Department the Fort Reno reservation for use as a remount depot. Additional stations were opened in 1911 at Fort Keogh in Montana and at Front Royal, Virginia, and in 1916 at El Paso and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
  • The cavalry fought its last Indian battle of any significance in the winter of 1890-91 when it engaged and subdued the Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in southwestern South Dakota. Except for labor uprisings for which the Army sometimes was called out, the next few years were comparatively peaceful.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).