Home Forums Horse and Musket American Civil War Horseflesh

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    My earliest Napoleonic games had cavalry units that could charge all day without any drop in ability: unrealistic!

    It clicked that a mounted unit might have only 2-3 charges in it for an average battle. And the better rule sets not only budgeted for this but also acknowledged that some units were poorly mounted (eg many French in the Campaign of 1813) and were even less effective.

    So as I move into the ACW & am aware that cavalry is a whole different thing, I wonder what was the quality of mounts on both sides? Better bred? Better cared for? Could they enter a battle or skirmish after weeks of travel in something like good condition?

    How good/bad was the horseflesh in the War Between the States?




    It was a big, long war that covered a lot of territory, so it’s hard to generalize. You’ll get more insight focusing on a specific army for a particular campaign. That said, I’ll go ahead and generalize.

    ACW cavalry excelled in the light cavalry role, as scouts, skirmishers and raiders. Battlefield charges were relatively rare. Cavalry charging infantry armed with rifled muskets and supported by light artillery usually came to grief, unless the infantry was already broken.

    Compared to European Napoleonic armies, cavalry formed a small fraction of ACW armies. Cavalry rarely appeared on major ACW battlefields, usually being kept out on the flanks to scout and screen the main body. Both Presidents called for vigorous, Napoleonic pursuit after a battlefield victory, but the winning army was usually so damaged and disorganized as to be unable to pursue the enemy. The only effective cavalry pursuit on a large scale that I can think of in the ACW was the Federal pursuit of Lee’s beaten army to Appomattox Court House in April 1865.

    Early war cavalry was often badly armed, especially in the west. After 1862, most Federal cavalry received breech-loading carbines, or even repeaters, while many Confederate cavalry acquired full-size Springfield or Enfield rifle-muskets. Cavalry with effective long-arms often dismounted to fight after occupying ground.

    At the start of the war, unscrupulous contractors furnished the Federal government with many scrub horses, while poorly trained Union volunteers often failed to care for their horses. Wastage of horseflesh was enormous. By 1862 the men usually no longer killed their horses by neglect, and an effective purchasing system as well as a network of breeding farms had been established to furnish the armies with remounts. After 1862, Federal cavalry was usually well mounted. Campaigning still killed horses en masse. It was usual for the army to seize all available civilian horses for remounts while on active operations in enemy territory. Sometimes payment was made.

    Confederate volunteer cavalry brought their own horses into service. Generally their quality was good, and the men cared for them as their own private property. A Confederate trooper who lost his mount had to provide his own replacement, or join the infantry. Some sources say that this made Confederate troopers reluctant to risk their mounts in combat, but Confederate cavalry is usually reckoned to have been effective light cavalry and superior to the Union cavalry in the early part of the war.

    By 1863, the south was running out of horses. Seizing horses became a major goal of raids into Federal-controlled territory. Commanders such as Forrest, Morgan and Moseby secretly recruited battalions and entire brigades  inside occupied Federal territory, where horses were available.  Still, numbers of troopers and the quality of mounts declined, and Federal cavalry gained ascendancy. By 1865, the depleted, outnumbered Confederate troopers could only try to block and delay while the Federal cavalry rode where they would to end the war.

    You'll shoot your eye out, kid!


    . Wastage of horseflesh was enormous. . Campaigning still killed horses en masse. .

    Thanks for your reply.

    As you undoubtedly know, horses are delicate beasties.

    Hmmmm. I’m thinking that tweaking the factors for early or late war  cavalry may be in line. Reb cavalry steadily diminishing as their horses grew poorer & the opposite for the Union as their men grew better?



    Yes, that’s the received view of the matter. The battle of Brandy Station in June 1863 is often regarded as the tipping point, where the Army of the Potomac’s Union cavalry proved that they could fight the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry on equal terms.

    You'll shoot your eye out, kid!


    By the end of the war, Union cavalry had become quite formidable, primarily as well-armed mounted infantry but also capable of squadron, regimental and the odd brigade sized mounted charge. Saylor’s Creek saw a sizable part of Lee’s army broken, with many prisoners taken. Wilson’s raid into Alabama was also impressive, though Grant opined in his memoirs that it was unnecessary since the South was going under. Wilson’s troopers captured Jefferson Davis in Georgia.

    This too shall pass


    What about the Reb troopers toting sawed of shotguns for close in fighting?

    "Wot did you do in the war Grandad?"

    "I was with Harry... At The Bridge!"


    Henh. My take on that is that the shotguns are a colorful feature, but over-romanticized. Some Reb cavalry in the west used shotguns because they could get nothing better. They delivered an effective blast close-up, but had a very limited range. Forrest taught his men to make a virtue of their necessity by charging mounted to close range and then firing a volley. It was a necessity, never a preference. They replaced the shotguns with better long-arms as soon as they could.

    If you can confirm that a particular regiment was shotgun armed for a particular battle or campaign, then make a special rule to cover them, but shotties should not be a standard feature of Confederate cavalry.

    You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

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