Cavalry fought in formations similar to infantry, although its primary battlefield roles proved quite dissimilar. Generals used cavalrymen to protect the advance of an army, secure an army’s flanks or safeguard vital crossroads and supply lines.
During combat, cavalry usually fought dismounted and in skirmish line, with one man from every four-man “cell” holding horses. Occasionally, cavalry became involved in pitched battles, but during these moments, it usually operated by squadron (two companies together). Cavalry could form into mounted lines-of-battle, and they regularly participated in mounted charges with sabers. Cavalry charges, if performed in-line, were usually conducted in several successive lines, sometimes even in column, as such formations provided more flexibility during a charge, enabling cavalry troopers to change direction more easily, as was necessary for mounted combat.
Information for this section was contributed by Timothy Orr, The Pennsylvania State University.
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- Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2001).
- Earl J. Hess, The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth (University of Kansas Press, 2008).
- Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson, Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage (University Alabama Press, 1984).