The Cavalry

The Cavalry in the American Civil War was a branch of army service in a process of transition. It suffered from emerging technology threats, difficult logistics, and sometimes misguided or inept commanders. Nevertheless, it played important roles in many Civil War campaigns and earned its place alongside the infantry and artillery combat arms.

There were three types of mounted forces prevalent for the Union in the Civil War.

1. Cavalry were forces that fought principally on horseback, armed with carbines, pistols, and especially sabers. Only a small percentage of Civil War forces met this definition primarily Union mounted forces in the Eastern Theater during the first half of the war.

2. Mounted infantry were forces that moved on horseback but dismounted for fighting on foot, armed principally with rifles. In the second half of the war, most of the units considered to be cavalry actually fought battles using the tactics of mounted infantry.

3. Dragoons were hybrid forces that were armed as cavalrymen but were expected to fight on foot as well.


At the time of the Civil War, the cavalry had five major missions, in rough priority:

1. Reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance screening.

2.Defensive, delaying actions.

3. Pursuit and harassment of defeated enemy forces.

4.Offensive actions

5. Long-distance raiding against enemy lines of communications, supply depots, railroads, etc.


This represented a change from previous eras, in which offensive action was the primary mission.

Reconnaissance was the key to effective cavalry, as it remains today in modern military. The cavalry serves as the "eyes" of the army. Defensive actions by the cavalry were critical in the retreat from Gettysburg. Pursuit and harassment of enemy forces were often neglected, but can be seen in their finest form in the pursuit of Robert E. Lee during the Appomattox Campaign. Offensive actions were certainly not unknown, however, but they were more frequently employed against enemy cavalry than against infantry. Long-distance raids were the most desirable mission for cavalrymen, primarily because of the fame that successful raids would bring, but they were often of little practical strategic value.


7th Michigan Company F/1st Nevada Cavalry