Cavalry History

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The US Cavalry was first conceived by General George Washington during the American Revolution when he authorized the formation of six regiments of Continental Dragoons. These units quickly became elite elements of the young Continental Army and distinguished themselves at such battles as Trenton and Cowpens. When the war ended these first cavalry units were deactivated, mainly for budgetary reasons.

The American Army then went for forty years without a regular mounted arm. By 1833, increased westward expansion and clashes with mounted Indians forced Congress to recognize that a regular force of cavalry was necessary to maintain order and protect settlers on the open plains. Congress then authorized the First Regiment of US Dragoons. The cavalry was so successful in initial clashes with the Indians and in the 1848 war with Mexico that the role of the mounted arm expanded rapidly. By 1860, six regular regiments were serving in the West.

The American Civil War, 1861 to 1865, saw extensive use of cavalry by both the North and the South. Cavalry performed a variety of functions including mounted charges, but it was during this period that they began begun to concentrate on modern cavalry functions, such as raids, security operations, and reconnaissance. The cavalry did not often stage a conventional attack during the Civil War; when it did, however, the result was some of the largest cavalry actions in history. The biggest cavalry engagement of the Civil War took place in 1863 at Brandy Station, Virginia, where over 50,000 mounted soldiers fought. Following the Civil War, it became apparent that the Indians had taken advantage of the distraction and had greatly increased their resistance to the settlement of the West. As a response, Congress authorized an increase in the number of regular cavalry regiments to ten. Two of the regiments, the Ninth and Tenth, were made of former black slaves, who became known as the "Buffalo Soldiers" by the Indians because of the texture of their hair. The ten cavalry regiments found plenty of action on the frontier from 1866 until 1888 Indian nations such as the Sioux and Apache.

 The Indian wars were characterized by small vicious engagements in which neither side asked for or gave any quarter. The most famous battle was General Custer's fight at the Little Big Horn River in the Montana. Custer's 600- man 7th Cavalry was virtually wiped out by a band of about 4,000 Sioux lead by the chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. By the late 1880s, the Indians Wars were virtually complete. Then began a series of "limited wars" in which mounted units played a significant role. In 1895 the US went to war with Spain over the island of Cuba. Five cavalry regiments were committed to the campaign for Santiago, and three -- the 1st, 9th, and 10th-- participated in the decisive assault on San Juan Hill. The US became involved in a significant guerrilla war in the Philippines the following year. From 1899 to 1901, nine regular cavalry regiments and two regiments of reserves were dispatched to fight the guerrillas.

In 1911 Mexican Bandits, led by the famous revolutionary Pancho Villa, began staging raids on towns in Texas and New Mexico. This prompted deployment of the entire regular cavalry force, 15 regiments, to guard the border. In 1916, after a particularly devastating attack on Columbus, New Mexico, left 17 Americans dead, General "Black Jack" Pershing led several thousand cavalrymen into Mexico in pursuit of the bandits. The punitive expedition was successful in destroying the bandit's base of strength. Within six months all US troops were withdrawn to their camps.

General Pershing's raid into Mexico was significant for two reasons. It resulted in the mobilization of over 400,000 US troops, who were then available when the US entered World War I. More significant for the mounted force, it was the last large-scale military operation of the US cavalry on horseback.

Cavalry Machine Gun Troop at the Gallop - 1940

As it did for horsemen of all nations, World War I marked the end of the US cavalry. When the US entered the war in 1917, the cavalry forces deployed to France were used as couriers and to man remount posts for the transport corps. Following the war, a slow but steady reduction took place in the cavalry forces. In 1933, the 1st US Cavalry Regiment, exactly one hundred years old, was dismounted and mechanized. By 1941 half of the Army's seventeen regiments had begun mechanization; all units were dismounted by the end of the following year.

World War II was the beginning of the US Armored Force, and Armored Cavalry. Some cavalry were reorganized as armored regiments, while others served as mechanized cavalry. Both type of organizations share the traditions of the horse-mounted force and the branch color yellow.

Machinegun Troop going into action, 1940. Since World War II, the old regiment numbers and battle honors have been carried on to other battlefields. During the Vietnam War, despite the prevalence of jungle terrain, ten cavalry squadrons and a cavalry regiment saw combat. Air cavalry participated in the Grenada and Panama invasions. Most recently, two armored cavalry regiments, two air cavalry squadrons, and seven ground cavalry squadrons took part in Operation Desert Storm. Today the US Cavalry is a complex and versatile force that carries out the traditional missions of reconnaissance and security. There are five major types of cavalry forces in the US Army: division light cavalry; division armored cavalry; the armored cavalry regiment; and the light cavalry regiment; and air cavalry. Each of these forces is designed to support the reconnaissance and security needs of its parent division or corps.

A division cavalry squadron is found in each US Army division. Armored and mechanized divisions have armored cavalry squadrons, while light infantry divisions have light cavalry squadrons. The division cavalry squadrons are designed to provide reconnaissance and security for the division commander.

The division armored cavalry squadron consists of six troops (companies): headquarters; three ground cavalry troops; and two air cavalry troops. The ground cavalry troops are equipped with M1A1 tanks and M3A1 cavalry fighting vehicles (CFV). The air cavalry troops are each equipped with eight OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters. The light cavalry squadron consists of five troops: headquarters, two ground, and two air. The ground troops are equipped with M1026 high mobility multi-use wheeled vehicles (HMMWV) armed with caliber .50 machine guns and 40mm grenade launchers. The air cavalry troops have the same equipment as the armored cavalry squadron air troops. The US Army's two cavalry regiments, the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 2d Light Cavalry Regiment, to conduct reconnaissance and security missions for the corps commander. Both regiments consist of three ground cavalry squadrons, an air cavalry squadron, and a support squadron. In the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment each ground squadron consists of six troops: headquarters; three ground cavalry troops; a tank company; and a howitzer battery. The ground cavalry troops are equipped with M1A1 tanks and M3A1 CFVs. In the 2d Light Cavalry Regiment the ground squadrons are organized with a headquarters, three ground cavalry troops, an antitank company, and a towed howitzer battery. The ground cavalry troops and antitank company use HMMWVs with equipped machine guns, grenade launchers, and TOWs. Current plans call for the light cavalry regiment to be equipped with the new light armored gun system (AGS) in place of TOW vehicles beginning in 1998.

Air cavalry squadrons perform reconnaissance and security for the Army's airborne and air assault divisions. Each air cavalry squadron consists of five troops: headquarters, three air troops, and one ground troop. The troops are organized exactly like those in a light infantry division.

Although the major role of all cavalry organizations is reconnaissance and security, US cavalry organizations are also expected to execute offensive and defensive missions when required. The wide variety of cavalry organizations allows US Army to select the cavalry force most appropriate to the tactical situation. Light cavalry units deploy quickly by air, and are ideal for use in unconventional warfare and where terrain will not support armored vehicles. Armored cavalry units deploy by ship and are designed to conduct their mission in high intensity conflicts where enemy armor may be present. Today's cavalry force is constantly changing to meet the needs of a modern battlefield. It is specifically designed and equipped to conduct its traditional mission on short notice, anywhere in the world.

DiMarco, 1994



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