I have written before about a book titled Attach And Die, by Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson, with a subtitle hard to resist: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage.
Today I was surprised to learn from the chapter about The Cavalry that most of the time when cavalry charged infantry the results were disastrous for the horsemen. To support this theory the author says “Rifled firepower enabled infantry to break up cavalry charges long before the riders could reach the infantry’s lines.” That makes a lot of sense when one thinks about it.
One of numerous cases in point the author makes, was at Gaines’ Mill in Hanover County, Virginia June 27, 1862, (the third of the Seven Day Battles). This was when the Confederate brigade of John Bell Hood broke through the Federal front, and the Union cavalry in response made a charge, resulting in the loss of 60% of the riders, or 150 out of 250 on horseback.
Another well-known charge of cavalry against infantry was made by the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry at Chancellorsville against Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate soldiers. McWhiney says: “The regiment made a saber charge, riding in column formation, but was broken apart by Confederate rifle fire”.
The author then quotes a Union cavalryman, John I. Collins who rode in the charge, and later said: “We struck it (the Confederate infantry) as a wave strikes a stately ship; the ship is staggered, maybe thrown on her beam ends, but the wave is dashed into spray, and the ship sails on as before.”
Cavalry v/s Cavalry was one thing, but Cavalry v/s Infantry, based on what I read from this book, gives the advantage to the guy on foot, when before I always thought it was safer to be on a horse!