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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Role of cavalry in the western theatre of the American Civil War from the Battle of Shilooh to the Tullahoma campaign. Stuart, Reginald Charles


Problem and Thesis: This thesis concerns itself with the role of cavalry as it emerged in western campaigns in the American Civil War from April 1862 to June 1863. The concepts of the role of cavalry that existed prior to the War, both in Europe and the United States are surveyed. This, like the historiographical scrutiny of cavalry studies, sets up a frame of reference for the reader to avoid the impression that the situation in the American Civil War existed in isolation. The main problem was to separate role from the topics of tactical evolutions, styles of fighting, the effects of weaponry, the influence of terrain, and actual tactical employment in battle. It is the author's contention that these more obvious points have really only obscured the true nature of the role of mounted troops in the American Civil War. These problems are important, but entirely separate from role, or the duties and responsibilities of an arm of the service in war. The roles of the several arms have not altered significantly although sophistication has allowed greater refinement in approach and greater efficiency in execution. Thus it is the main argument of this thesis that the role of cavalry remained much the same during the American Civil War in spite of surface alterations in approach and efficiency in the waging of war. Approach: The Western Theatre was chosen as the area for study because it has been relatively neglected in Civil War Historiography and it was there that the genuinely decisive battles were fought. The fate of the South was really sealed in the Mississippi Valley and not in the East in the stalemate which was the general character of the war in that theatre. The study starts at the Battle of Shiloh, which was the first real test of combat in the West, and traces Braxton Bragg’s Invasion of Kentucky. The failure of that and the Confederate repulse at Corinth assured eventual Federal control of the West. Once the campaigns had been selected, a familiarity with the studies done on cavalry was undertaken and it was immediately obvious that the problem of the role of mounted troops had never really been undertaken. The bulk of the research for reconstructing the role of cavalry in the campaigns fell on the Official Records, the mainstay of any Civil War research. This was buttressed by other government sources, diaries, reminiscences, memoirs, letters and relevant secondary material. The role of the cavalry on both sides emerged fairly clearly from this research. It had a dual character, on the one hand being a shield oriented to the protection of the army at large and on the other hand being a dagger aimed for lightning-like thrusts at vulnerable points in the enemy’s side. This analogy successfully explains the role of cavalry that emerged from the campaigns studied. As a shield cavalry was defensive, subordinate, and tactical. The role of cavalry as a dagger was usually secondary to that as a shield, but it was nonetheless distinct and real. Then it was offensive, independent, and often strategical. Conclusions: A role for cavalry had emerged from the classic studies of Baron De Jomini, based on analysis of the Napoleonic Wars and written thirty years before. The role that emerged in the study was remarkably like that suggested by Jomini, although Jomini’s influence is not the subject of this inquiry. It seems, that in this manner at least, the American Civil War, although it exhibited dramatic changes in many ways, was in others quite orthodox. The war did not see a significant alteration in the role of cavalry although it saw shifts in emphasis and approach to that role as well as increased efficiency, in many cases, in its fulfilment.

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