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Cavalry Operations in the Western Theater

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  • Cavalry Operations in the Western Theater

    In the hope of steering discussion away from our pal Thomas Jefferson and his neo-Confederate rantings, let's instead focus on something interesting....

    I've often said that part of the reason why I don't have a great deal of respect for Nathan Bedford Forrest is because, with the distinct exception of James H. Wilson at Selma, he always faced the second team.

    Then, there was Wheeler, who enjoyed a modicum of success in spite of not being particularly talented. Wheeler faced pretty much every Union cavalry commander in the West, including the Eastern Theater retreads (he put a damned good whipping on Kilpatrick at Aiken, SC in February 1865).

    I have some thoughts on the subject, but I would be interested in hearing why people think that, until Wilson's independent command was formed during the fall and winter of 1864-1865, the Union cavalry in the West got short shrift and not the best of the commanders or the weaponry that were commonly distributed to the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps.

    I welcome the discussion, but I would really prefer to keep this from being a "Forrest is great" thread, as that's not my object here.

    Eric
    "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

    Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

  • #2
    Originally posted by EricWittenberg View Post
    In the hope of steering discussion away from our pal Thomas Jefferson and his neo-Confederate rantings, let's instead focus on something interesting....

    I've often said that part of the reason why I don't have a great deal of respect for Nathan Bedford Forrest is because, with the distinct exception of James H. Wilson at Selma, he always faced the second team.

    Then, there was Wheeler, who enjoyed a modicum of success in spite of not being particularly talented. Wheeler faced pretty much every Union cavalry commander in the West, including the Eastern Theater retreads (he put a damned good whipping on Kilpatrick at Aiken, SC in February 1865).

    I have some thoughts on the subject, but I would be interested in hearing why people think that, until Wilson's independent command was formed during the fall and winter of 1864-1865, the Union cavalry in the West got short shrift and not the best of the commanders or the weaponry that were commonly distributed to the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps.

    I welcome the discussion, but I would really prefer to keep this from being a "Forrest is great" thread, as that's not my object here.

    Eric
    Maybe so, but the largely untutored Forrest was able to perform tasks that no other Confederate General could do. His Command was not only largely successful in their many battles, but continued to grow in numbers until the final days of the war.
    "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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    • #3
      John,

      I understand, but this is precisely what I don't want to get into here.

      Eric
      "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

      Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by EricWittenberg View Post
        In the hope of steering discussion away from our pal Thomas Jefferson and his neo-Confederate rantings, let's instead focus on something interesting....

        I've often said that part of the reason why I don't have a great deal of respect for Nathan Bedford Forrest is because, with the distinct exception of James H. Wilson at Selma, he always faced the second team.

        Then, there was Wheeler, who enjoyed a modicum of success in spite of not being particularly talented. Wheeler faced pretty much every Union cavalry commander in the West, including the Eastern Theater retreads (he put a damned good whipping on Kilpatrick at Aiken, SC in February 1865).

        I have some thoughts on the subject, but I would be interested in hearing why people think that, until Wilson's independent command was formed during the fall and winter of 1864-1865, the Union cavalry in the West got short shrift and not the best of the commanders or the weaponry that were commonly distributed to the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps.

        I welcome the discussion, but I would really prefer to keep this from being a "Forrest is great" thread, as that's not my object here.

        Eric
        Eric, thanks for the diversion. Without getting into the hard core cites which should follow, I'd have to go with Horace Greeley and his kind. I think that Lincoln had so many "irons in the fire", and the cabinet was so engrossed in the AOP, the early success of the Confederate Cavalry must be paid for with the disparagement of their Union counterpoints. The public focus of the times and, seemingly those of the present revolve around the East, the Western Cav. ends up being the poor step-child of the Ordinance Dept.. I’ll bet someone here will provide the production orders for carbines, and revolvers. Blades were in large supply.
        While Wheeler and Forrest had success, I submit they were charged with a different op. order. Swashbuckling, slashing, operations would develop a completely different morale, than one of "eyes and ears".
        My 2 cents.
        (I now await the posts from my superiors)
        My Avatar: Ivan W. Henderson Gunner/navigator B-25-26. 117 combat missions. Both Theaters. 11 confirmed kills. DSC.

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        • #5
          Part of the problem in the west is that the union generals never used their cavalry the way it was used in the east. Neither Grant nor Sherman created a cavalry corps for AoT for instance. Rosecrans did not puish for a strong force that would act the way AoP or AoNV cavalry did.

          Sherman did unleash his cavalry in 1864--with very mixed results.

          The union did use cavalry for raids before 1864, but the only successful one was Grieson's, and he had no cavalry opposition. Grant and Rosecrans never went beyond that.

          The most successful unit was the Lightning Brigade, and a big part of that was their self-bought repeaters.

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          • #6
            I would say that the reason the Union cavalry was usually bested was because the focus of the Union armies was on taking and holding towns, cities, positions, etc...whereas the Confederate cavalry was used for raiding supply lines, towns, cities, etc...the rebels not really having to worry about their supply lines as they were already in their home territory.

            Wouldn't the Confederate cavalry look better by comparison by being able to always pick their time and place for a fight? The Union cavalry is tied down to guarding wagons, railroad track and suddenly here comes Forrest or whoever, swooping in and surprising everyone and then melting away or setting ambushes for the follow-up Union forces. I would like to see if the Confederate cavalry would've performed as well had the roles been reversed. Yes, I know about Morgan raiding Indiana and Ohio but he was eventually run to earth and captured so I would say his raid was a failure.(his surrender monument is only about 15 miles away)

            I would say the Union cavalry performed about as well as could be expected given the circumstances.

            Or am I completely off base? Let me know, I can take it.
            Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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            • #7
              I'm waiting to read what those more learned than I have to say. I have a hard time judging a founder of the KKK objectively.

              On the whole though I think the Union cavalry performed better as the war progressed in all theatres. Tradition, culture, economics and expectations for young men were more likely to lead youngsters from the south to this arm than those from the north. Thus a certain superiority could be supposed.

              If we look at naval operations and the factors I cited above, the roles would probably be reversed in a majority of cases.
              If stupid was a criminal offense Sea Lion believers would be doing life.

              Shouting out to Half Pint for bringing back the big mugs!

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              • #8
                Okay...

                Maybe Union commanders should be blamed on how they used cavalry commanders?

                This is perhaps a poor example, but look at Lee and Stuart. Stuart was effective not because he was very good it, but that Lee knew how to use him effectively. I think the fault should be on Lee's shoulders for failing to rein in Stuart as he went off riding around AOP during Gettysburg campaign.

                A cavalry commander is only good as a proper tool, otherwise his talents and resources would be wasted.

                Dan
                Major James Holden, Georgia Badgers Militia of Rainbow Regiment, American Civil War

                "Aim small, miss small."

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                • #9
                  All good thoughts, guys. And I think that the answer incorporates all of it. See if you can wrap it all up into a bigger picture answer, and then I think you might have it.

                  Probably tomorrow, I will post my thoughts.

                  Eric
                  "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

                  Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by D1J1 View Post
                    I'm waiting to read what those more learned than I have to say. I have a hard time judging a founder of the KKK objectively..
                    He is also the one who disbanded the KKK. I will not defend the KKK from either period but it must be remembered that the Klan passed away with the end of Reconstruction and Forrest's demand for its disbanding. Its purpose as he saw it was being perverted. Its resurrection in the 1900's as primarily a racist organization was national, not southern, and one of its greatest leaders was from the Mid-west. We all know what the Klan has evolved into by the 1950's and into today. Pandora has never been forgiven for opening the box and to an extent neither should Forrest. On the other hand unlike Pandora he did shut that box. It was reopened by others with agendas completely different than his own.



                    Originally posted by D1J1 View Post
                    On the whole though I think the Union cavalry performed better as the war progressed in all theatres. Tradition, culture, economics and expectations for young men were more likely to lead youngsters from the south to this arm than those from the north. Thus a certain superiority could be supposed.

                    If we look at naval operations and the factors I cited above, the roles would probably be reversed in a majority of cases..
                    That probably applies more to naval operations than land operations. The south did come up with success and inovations in the naval field also but most resources and leaders did lay with the Union.

                    On the land side I think that it is largely mistaken to say that the south out generaled the north. It is more a case that they had better generals in place at the beginning of the war or were fortunate with their early promotions. I'll skip the discussion of generals in general (ha) and just address Eric's cav emphasis. We always remember the CSA cav generals but we seem to discount the Union leaders. They are hard to find in 1861 and 1862but they are abundant from 1863 on. In other words... there they are for most of the war. Everyone seems to remember JEB Stuart and to a lesser extent Wheeler, Morgan, Forrest, and Rooney Lee. Other than JEB it seems that Buford, Sheridan, Custer, Geirson, Wilson are names at least as recognized by even casual CW readers. To that list a little reading will add Merrit, A.J. Smith, and even though unsuccessful Streight.
                    "Put guards on all the roads, and don't let the men run to the rear."
                    Major General John Buford's final words on his deathbed.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Widow Maker View Post
                      He is also the one who disbanded the KKK. I will not defend the KKK from either period but it must be remembered that the Klan passed away with the end of Reconstruction and Forrest's demand for its disbanding. Its purpose as he saw it was being perverted. Its resurrection in the 1900's as primarily a racist organization was national, not southern, and one of its greatest leaders was from the Mid-west. We all know what the Klan has evolved into by the 1950's and into today. Pandora has never been forgiven for opening the box and to an extent neither should Forrest. On the other hand unlike Pandora he did shut that box. It was reopened by others with agendas completely different than his own.





                      That probably applies more to naval operations than land operations. The south did come up with success and inovations in the naval field also but most resources and leaders did lay with the Union.

                      On the land side I think that it is largely mistaken to say that the south out generaled the north. It is more a case that they had better generals in place at the beginning of the war or were fortunate with their early promotions. I'll skip the discussion of generals in general (ha) and just address Eric's cav emphasis. We always remember the CSA cav generals but we seem to discount the Union leaders. They are hard to find in 1861 and 1862but they are abundant from 1863 on. In other words... there they are for most of the war. Everyone seems to remember JEB Stuart and to a lesser extent Wheeler, Morgan, Forrest, and Rooney Lee. Other than JEB it seems that Buford, Sheridan, Custer, Geirson, Wilson are names at least as recognized by even casual CW readers. To that list a little reading will add Merrit, A.J. Smith, and even though unsuccessful Streight.
                      The south did not outgeneral the north overall, even in the beginning--look at Mill Springs, the struggle for Missouri, and even West Virginia: let alone Polk invading Kentucky before the Union did.

                      Basically, beforwe the 7 Days, the south had Ft. Sumter, Wilson's Creek and Bull Run, the North had all of the above plus Ft. Donaldson & Shiloh.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Widow Maker View Post
                        That probably applies more to naval operations than land operations. The south did come up with success and inovations in the naval field also but most resources and leaders did lay with the Union.

                        On the land side I think that it is largely mistaken to say that the south out generaled the north. It is more a case that they had better generals in place at the beginning of the war or were fortunate with their early promotions. I'll skip the discussion of generals in general (ha) and just address Eric's cav emphasis. We always remember the CSA cav generals but we seem to discount the Union leaders. They are hard to find in 1861 and 1862but they are abundant from 1863 on. In other words... there they are for most of the war. Everyone seems to remember JEB Stuart and to a lesser extent Wheeler, Morgan, Forrest, and Rooney Lee. Other than JEB it seems that Buford, Sheridan, Custer, Geirson, Wilson are names at least as recognized by even casual CW readers. To that list a little reading will add Merrit, A.J. Smith, and even though unsuccessful Streight.
                        My point about army leadership does apply to the beginning of the war. I most certainly would not state that the south "out generaled" the north as a comprehensive statement. Sorry you drew that conclusion.

                        What I was saying was that the factors I listed made it far more likely for a young southern gentleman to serve than his northern counterpart. That created a situation where those individuals refined their talents in that regard.

                        My statements by no means were meant to indicate that the experience gap couldn't or wasn't overcome.
                        If stupid was a criminal offense Sea Lion believers would be doing life.

                        Shouting out to Half Pint for bringing back the big mugs!

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                        • #13
                          I think that by the time Wilson made his raid into Alabama and took Selma, the Union had pretty well caught up on use of Cavalry. It takes time to create a good Cavalryman and the North took about three years. Most of the farmboys up North that knew horses, avoided service in the Cavalry.

                          Perhaps it is a measure of the Union commanders in the West that the most successful had a violent dislike of horses!

                          Confederate Cavalry in the West also fought differently. Most was in reality Mounted Infantry. I have also seen that there was occasion where the Confederates rode in on horseback firing their rifles! Not too accurate, but handy on raids. Forrest tended to favor dismounts.

                          Terrain also probably affected tactics. Campaigns in Central and East Tennessee funneled armies between the ridges. Until one reached certain areas, maneuver was easy to get around your opponent.

                          While Forrest and Wheeler get the most attention, some Brigadiers like Morgan did some fine work in penetration raids. Forrest was a hard school for his Yankee opponents! He separated the men from the boys on several occasions! Was it fair to even send those retreads from the East against him?

                          One last observation, is isn't it ironic that the best Yankee Cavalry Commander commanded Infantry in the West (Sheridan)?

                          Pruitt
                          Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                          Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                          by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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                          • #14
                            Anybody else care to weigh in before I give you my thoughts on this issue?

                            Eric
                            "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

                            Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

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                            • #15
                              I still "blame" the union generals because cavalry developed faster in the east than in the west despite the plethora of western farmboys in Grant's and Rosecrans' armies.

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