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|United States Cavalry|
Cavalry branch plaque
|Active||17 November 1775–present|
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Army|
|Role||Reconnaissance, security, assault|
|United States Cavalry|
Cavalry branch plaque
|Active||17 November 1775–present|
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Army|
|Role||Reconnaissance, security, assault|
The United States Cavalry, or U.S. Cavalry, was the designation of the mounted force of the United States Army from the late 18th to the early 20th century. The Cavalry branch was absorbed into the Armor branch in 1950, but the term "Cavalry" remains in use in the U.S. Army for certain armor and aviation units historically derived from cavalry units.
Originally designated as United States Dragoons, the forces were patterned after cavalry units employed during the Revolutionary War. The traditions of the U.S. Cavalry originated with the horse-mounted force which played an important role in extending United States governance into the Western United States after the American Civil War.
Immediately preceding World War II, the U.S. Cavalry began transitioning to a mechanized, mounted force. During World War II, the Army's cavalry units operated as horse-mounted, mechanized, or dismounted forces (infantry). The last horse-mounted cavalry charge by a U.S. Cavalry unit took place on the Bataan Peninsula, in the Philippines. The 26th Cavalry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts executed the charge against Japanese forces near the village of Morong on 16 January 1942.
The U.S. Cavalry branch was absorbed into the Armor branch as part of the Army Reorganization Act of 1950. The Vietnam War saw the introduction of helicopters and operations as an airborne force with the designation of Air Cavalry, while mechanized cavalry received the designation of Armored Cavalry.
Today, cavalry designations and traditions continue with regiments of both armor and aviation units that perform the cavalry mission. The 1st Cavalry Division is the only active division in the United States Army with a cavalry designation. The division maintains a detachment of horse-mounted cavalry for ceremonial purposes.
Washington saw the intimidating effect of the small force of British 17th Light Dragoons, which panicked his militia infantry at White Plains. Appreciating the ability of the 5th Regiment of Connecticut Light Horse Militia, under Major Elisha Sheldon, to gather intelligence during the subsequent retreat of Continental forces into New Jersey, he asked the Continental Congress for a light cavalry force in the Continental army. In late 1776, Congress authorized Washington to establish a mounted force of 3,000 men.
On 12 December 1776, Congress converted Elisha Sheldon's militia regiment into the Regiment of Light Dragoons. In March 1777, Washington established the Corps of Continental Light Dragoons consisting of four regiments of 280 men, each organised in six troops. Many problems faced the light dragoon regiments, including the inability of recruiting to bring the units to authorized strength, shortage of suitable cavalry weapons and horses, and lack of uniformity among troopers in dress and discipline. Congress appointed the Polish revolutionary and professional soldier Count Casimir Pulaski to train them as an offensive strike force during winter quarters of 1777–78 at Trenton, New Jersey.
Pulaski's efforts led to friction with the American officers, resulting in his resignation, but Congress authorized Pulaski to form his own independent corps in 1778. Pulaski's Legion consisted of dragoons, riflemen, grenadiers, and infantry. Another independent corps of dragoons joined Pulaski's in the Continental Line during 1778 when a former captain in Bland's Horse, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, formed Lee's Corps of Partisan Light Dragoons, which specialized in raiding British supply lines. Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, marquis de la Rouerie ("Col. Armand"), a French nobleman, raised a third corps of infantry in Boston, called the Free and Independent Chasseurs, which later added a troop of dragoons, becoming Armand's Legion. Although a reorganization in 1778 authorized expansion of the four regiments to 415 men each, forage difficulties, expiration of enlistments, desertions, and other problems made this impossible, and no regiment ever carried more than 200 men on its roles, and they averaged 120 to 180 men between 1778 and 1780.
In 1779, Washington ordered the 2nd and 4th Continental Light Dragoons equipped temporarily as infantry, and deployed the 1st and 3rd Continental Light Dragoons and Pulaski's Legion to the South to join local militia cavalry and to oppose the new British strategy for controlling that area. Battle engagements in South Carolina largely seriously attrited the 1st and 3rd Regiments in the spring of 1780, who amalgamated into a single unit. Following the capture of Charleston, South Carolina on 12 May 1780, the remnants tried to regroup and reconstitute in Virginia and North Carolina. In August, 1780, Armand's Legion was with General Gates at the disastrous Battle of Camden.
The most significant engagement of the war involving Continental light dragoons was the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781. Southern theater commander General Nathanael Greene reorganized part of Lee's Legion and elements of the amalgamated 1st and 3rd Light Dragoons in Charlotte and dispatched them on a series of raids against Loyalist forces in western Carolina. The British responded by organizing a large force of dragoons and infantry under British Lt-Col Banastre Tarleton to stop the raids and put down the mobile forces. The dragoons joined the "flying corps" commanded by General Daniel Morgan at Cowpens, charged the advancing lines of Tarlton's infantry at a calculated moment, broke their ranks, and secured a crucial victory. Later, the 3rd Legionary Corps participated in Greene's maneuvers across North Carolina and fought well against Cornwallis's army at Guilford Courthouse.
In January 1781, the practice of the dragoons employing both mounted and dismounted troops resulted in their official reconfiguration as Legionary Corps, the mounted dragoons supported by dismounted dragoons armed as infantry, an organization that persisted until the war's end. In 1783, the Continental Army was discharged and the dragoons were released.
The first cavalry unit formed by the Congress of the United States of America was a squadron of four troops commanded by Major Michael Rudolph on 5 March 1792. In 1799, Congress established a provision for mobilization of three cavalry regiments in the event of a war. Equipment for 3,000 men and horses was procured and stored. The Congressional act of 12 April 1808 authorized a standing regiment of light dragoons consisting of eight troops. As war loomed, Congress authorized another regiment of light dragoons on 11 January 1812. These regiments were respectively known afterwards as the First and Second United States Dragoons.
In 1813, Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jr. granted Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson permission to raise two battalions of volunteer cavalry. Johnson recruited 1,200 men, divided into 14 companies. In autumn, after much training, Johnson's Volunteers, as they had come to be called, clashed with the British 45th Foot along the Thames River, 90 miles east of Detroit. The training and the tactical leadership of Col. Johnson resulted in the surrender of the British.
Congress combined the First and Second United States Dragoons into one Regiment of Light Dragoons on 30 March 1814. This was a cost cutting measure; it was cheaper and easier to maintain one unit at full strength than two organizations that could not maintain a full complement of riders. The signing of the Treaty of Ghent at the end of the year ended the war. The regiment was disbanded on 3 March 1815, with the explanation that cavalry forces were too expensive to maintain as part of a standing army. The retained officers and men were folded into the Corps of Artillery by 15 June 1815, all others were discharged.
In 1832, Congress formed the United States Mounted Ranger Battalion to protect settlers along the east bank of the Mississippi River and to keep the Santa Fe trail open. The battalion comprised volunteers organized into six companies of 100 men. To correct what was perceived as a lack of discipline, organization and reliability, Congress formed the United States Regiment of Dragoons as a regular force in 1833, consisting of 10 companies (designated A through K) with a total of 750 men. The Regiment fought against the Seminole nation in 1835, when Chief Osceola led warriors from his tribe in the Second Seminole War in protest to the Treaty of Payne's Landing. For a year, the established units had difficulty containing the Indians. Congress responded by establishing the 2nd United States Regiment of Dragoons in 1836.
Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, the Army's dragoon regiments were designated as "Cavalry", losing their previous distinctions. The change was an unpopular one and the former dragoons retained their orange braided blue jackets until they wore out and had to be replaced with cavalry yellow. The 1st United States Cavalry fought in virtually every campaign in the north during the American Civil War.
The U.S. Cavalry played a prominent role in the American Indian Wars, particularly in the American Old West. Particularly notable were the 7th Cavalry, associated with General George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the 9th and 10th Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers. Infantry units, called by the Indians "walkaheaps", were also involved and in some cases were the main force deployed. Infantry, when mounted, were called "mounted infantry"; they lacked training and skill in horsemanship and cavalry tactics.
Roasting the Christmas Beef, Frederic Remington, Harper's Weekly, 24 December 1892
The most famous cavalry unit in the Spanish American war was the legendary Rough Riders, although only officers used horses as there was not enough room on the ship to bring all the horses to Cuba, and those that were not used by the officers were used to pull equipment.
The 15th Cavalry Division was created in February 1917 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. It numbered in succession of the 1st–14th Divisions, which were not all active at its creation. Originally trained for deployment to Europe, its units were later converted into field artillery units. The division was deactivated on 12 May 1918. Its personnel and other assets were later used to form 1st & 2nd Cavalry Divisions. On 20 August 1921, as a result of lessons learned from World War I, the Army's Adjutant General, Major General Peter C. Harris, constituted the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Divisions to meet future mobilization requirements. However, the 2nd Cavalry Division was not subsequently activated, and remained in 'on-paper' organizational limbo for twenty years.
In 1921 the formation of the National Guard 21st through 24th Cavalry Divisions began with the First, Second, and Third Army Areas supporting the 21st, 22nd, and 24th, respectively. The 23d was the nation's at-large cavalry division, supported by all army areas (Alabama, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin Army National Guards). In a short time the divisions had the prescribed cavalry regiments and machine gun squadrons but not the majority of their support organizations. To create the Organized Reserve cavalry divisions, the War Department added the 61st, 62nd; 63rd; 64th, 65th and 66th Cavalry Divisions to the rolls of the Army on 15 October 1921.
In 1927, the adjutant general constituted one regular army, one cavalry corps, and three army corps headquarters. In addition, the 3rd Cavalry Division, a new Regular Army formation, was added to the rolls to complete the cavalry corps. No army corps, cavalry corps, or army headquarters was organized at that time, but moving these units in the mobilization plans from the Organized Reserve to the Regular Army theoretically made it easier to organize the units in an emergency.
In the midst of the 1940 presidential campaign prominent black leaders complained bitterly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the limited number of black units. Under political pressure the Army activated the 2nd Cavalry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, on 1 April 1941, with one white and one black brigade. The black brigade, the 4th Cavalry Brigade was activated during February 1941 with the 9th Cavalry Regiment and 10th Cavalry Regiment, the 'Buffalo Soldiers,' as its cavalry regiments. In addition, a further black cavalry regiment, the 27th Cavalry Regiment (Colored), 2nd Cavalry Division, was also activated in April 1941.
Going into the Second World War, the Cavalry consisted of three Regular, four National Guard, and six Organized Reserve cavalry divisions as well as the independent 56th Cavalry Brigade. Because of a shortage of men, on 15 July 1942, the 2d Cavalry Division was inactivated to permit organization of the 9th Armored Division. White cavalrymen were assigned to the 9th Armored Division, and the all-black 4th Cavalry Brigade became a nondivisional formation.
The 106th Cavalry was before World War II a National Guard unit based in Chicago, Illinois. Prior to World War I and the Spanish-American War it had been known as the 1st Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. The 106th underwent a number of different reorganizations until 1 September 1940, when it was redesignated the 1st Squadron, 106th Cavalry (Horse-Mechanized).
On 25 February 1943 the 2nd Cavalry Division was (re)activated. The 27th Cavalry Regiment was attached to the 5th Cavalry Brigade (Colored) on 25 February 1943. It was deactivated 27 March 1944 and personnel later reorganized into the 6400th Ordnance Battalion (Ammo) (Provisional) 12 June 1944. The 28th Cavalry Regiment (Colored), 2nd Cavalry Division, activated February 1942 and attached to the 5th Cavalry Brigade (Coloured) on 25 February 1943. It was deactivated 31 March 1944 and personnel later reorganized into the 6400th Ordnance Battalion (Ammo) (Provisional) 12 June 1944.
A Horse Cavalry Rifle Squad consisted of a Corporal and seven Privates in two sets of Four. One of the Privates acted as the Squad's Second-in-command (2IC). Each set of Four consisted of a Squad leader or 2IC, a Scout, a Horseholder and a Rifleman. Mounted troopers would attack with their pistols; at the command 'Charge', troopers would shorten their reins, lean well forward and ride at full speed toward the enemy. Each trooper would select a victim to his immediate front and bear down on him with his pistol extended at arm's length, withholding fire until within 25 yards. When fighting on foot, the horseholder would takes control of the other horses in the Four, the other troopers would dismount and take their rifles from the scabbards.[clarification needed]
The Horse Cavalry Rifle Platoon consisted of three Rifle Squads and a Platoon Headquarters. The Platoon HQ consisted of a Lieutenant as Platoon Leader, a Platoon Sergeant, a File Closer Sergeant, two Intelligence Scouts, who also acted as messengers, and three basic Privates, who replaced squad casualties.
The last horse cavalry charge by an Army cavalry unit took place against Japanese forces during the fighting in the Bataan Peninsula, Philippines, in the village of Morong on 16 January 1942, by the 26th Cavalry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts. Shortly thereafter, the besieged combined United States-Philippine forces were forced to slaughter their horses for food and the 26th Regiment fought on foot or in whatever scarce vehicles were available until their surrender.
The 10th Mountain Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop of the 10th Mountain Division, while not designated as U.S. Cavalry, conducted the last horse-mounted charge of any Army organization whilst engaged in Austria in 1945. An impromptu pistol charge by the Third Platoon was carried out when the Troop encountered a machine gun nest in an Italian village/town sometime between 14–23 April 1945.
Prior to World War II, the Army commenced experimenting with mechanization and had partially mechanized some cavalry regiments, such as the Wyoming National Guard's 115th Cavalry Horse-Mechanized. During the war, many of the Army's cavalry units were mechanized with tanks and reconnaissance vehicles, while others fought dismounted as infantry. Some units were converted into other types of units entirely, some of which made use of the cavalry's experience with horses. The Mars Men of the China Burma India Theater give such an example.
The principal reconnaissance element of an Infantry Division was a mechanized Cavalry Troop, whilst an Armored Division was provided with a full Cavalry Squadron. Several Cavalry Groups, each of two squadrons, were formed to serve as the reconnaissance elements for U.S. corps headquarters in the European Theater of Operations during 1944-45.
Three of the jeeps were mounted with a 60mm mortar manned by two soldiers; the other three had a bracket-mounted .30 caliber machine gun, manned by a soldier sitting in the front passenger seat - although sometimes the M1919 was replaced by a .50 caliber machine gun. To maximize speed and maneuverability on the battlefield, the Bantams were not given extra armor protection.
The M8 Greyhound was a six-wheeled, light-weight armored car, mounting a 37 mm gun in a movable turret that could swing a full 360 degrees. It also featured a .30 caliber coaxial machine gun that could move independently of the turret. The M8 was equipped with powerful FM radios to enable battlefield communications.
A Cavalry squadron comprised a HQ Troop, three Cavalry troops (four for those in Armored Divisions), a Light Tank Company and an Assault Gun Troop.
The Light Tank Company had 17 tanks; two in the Company Headquarters and three platoons of five tanks. Initially, the tanks were M3 Stuarts, later M5 Stuarts; both of which were equipped with 37mm guns. The Stuart was capable of speeds of up to 36 mph (58 km/h) on the road. While fast and maneuverable, its armor plating and cannon were soon found to be no match for the German tanks. In February 1945 they were replaced with the M24 Chaffee light tank, which was equipped with a 75 mm gun.
The Assault Gun Troop comprised three Assault Gun Platoons (four for those in Armored Divisions), each with two M8 HMCs - M5 Stuarts with their turrets replaced by an open-turreted 75mm howitzer - and two M3 Half-tracks; one for the platoon HQ, the other for the ammunition section.
The experience gained in the use of the mechanized cavalry groups during World War II led to the eventual postwar formation of armored cavalry regiments to act as corps reconnaissance and screening elements.
The Vietnam War saw the first combat use of air cavalry warfare; and twenty armored and air cavalry units were deployed to Vietnam during the war. Armored cavalry units in Vietnam were initially equipped with the M48A3 Patton tank, armed with a 90 mm main gun, and the M113 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV). In January 1969, the cavalry began transitioning from the Patton tank to the M551 Sheridan Armored Airborne Reconnaissance Assault Vehicle. By 1970, all armored cavalry units in Vietnam were operating the Sheridan except for the tank companies of the 11th ACR, which continued to use Patton tanks.
The 1st Dragoons was reformed in the Vietnam era as 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry, and continues to this day as the oldest cavalry unit, as well as the most decorated unit, in the U.S. Army. Today's modern 1–1st Cavalry is a scout/attack unit, equipped with M1A1 Abrams tanks and M3 Bradley CFVs.
Another modern U.S. Army unit informally known as the 2nd Dragoons is the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker). This unit was originally organized as the Second Dragoon Regiment in 1836 until it was renamed the Second Cavalry Regiment in 1860, morphing into the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in the 1960s. The regiment is currently equipped with the Stryker family of wheeled fighting vehicles. As equipped with the Stryker, the 2nd Cavalry once again can be accurately referred to as a "Dragoon" force – mounted infantry.
The cavalry, like any other military force, has its own unique traditions and history. These traditions include the Order of the Spur commonly called "Spur Ride," cavalry Stetson, Fiddler's Green poem, the song or rallying cry Garryowen, and the Order of the Yellow Rose. Units in the modern Army with cavalry lineage often adopt a Black Stetson hat as unofficial semi dress headgear, recalling the black felt campaign hats of the American frontier era.
The distinct cavalry branch ceased to exist when it was absorbed into the Armor branch in 1951, during the Korean War. Other regiments of both armored and air cavalry exist in the Army. The patches on 1st Cavalry Division helicopters that served in Vietnam retained the symbol of a horse, symbolizing the mobility that characterized the original horse cavalry. In spite of the formal disbanding of the branch, however, the recognition of it continues on within the Army's armor and aviation branches, where some officers choose cavalry branch insignia over the very similar armor branch insignia or aviation "prop and wing" insignia.
Chief, the last surviving tactical horse of the United States Cavalry, died in 1968, at the age of 36.
The 1st Cavalry Division is the only presently existing division of the Army that retains the "cavalry" name and the division retains one detachment of ceremonial horse cavalry for morale and ceremonial purposes. The division is otherwise divided into four armored brigades and one air cavalry brigade, both of which contain subordinate units that perform traditional cavalry tasks.
Army National Guard:
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