The Role of the Civil War

The civil war took place between 1861 and 1865. It was triggered by the need for independence which led eleven of the southern states to form the confederacy which resisted the rules imposed by the federal government. They were later joined by a few of the northern states.

The US Calvary arose during the American evolution from the continental dragoons. Due to the prevailing financial situation of the time, the Calvary was disbanded for forty years. The civil war brought a change in the Calvary operations as the Calvary concentrated more on its modern day operations (Mackey, 2004, 28).

Though the Calvary remained almost dormant in the first years of the civil war, its impact cannot be ignored as the civil war progressed. At the beginning of the civil war, the Calvary was restricted to non active combat activities mainly characterized by patrolling and guarding senior officials and infrastructure.

The traditional role of the Calvary however changed drastically as the war took its toll on the infantry and artillery branches of the army and the Calvary had to engage in active combat despite the many challenges it was facing (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 158). This included technological deficiencies, difficult logistics and inept and inexperienced leaders and crew.

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The Calvary held a significant role in the civil war and ensured that the southern and the northern military won many battles during the period of the civil war. The role of the Calvary during the civil war had been widely debated mainly due to the cost of maintaining this arm of the military.

Their popularity has increased abroad based on their contribution during the civil war and they have become a model for other armies abroad. This has however not come without great struggle as different politicians initially questioned their contribution in a war.

The significance of the Calvary was realized during the civil war as the politicians realized the limitations of the other military forces. The northern politicians who had supported their disbandment on the grounds of unnecessary financial expenses met during their training, had to rely on the Calvary as the protesting southern states became more aggressive.

The Calvary was initially viewed as an unnecessary expense in the budget of the government. It was rated as the most expensive arm of the military and their contribution was viewed with skepticism by many (Mackey, 2004, 128). It is due to this reason that during the initial battle of Bull Run only seven regular troops of Calvary were available.

            A debate has grown on the significance of the Calvary in war, with the proponents insisting that this arm of the army is as important as it was during the civil war and that instead of focusing on ending it, the states need to focus on widening the scope of the Calvary as well as increasing the intelligence and the techniques within the staff (Lake and Rothchild 1998, 80). They have reemphasized on the need to improve the training of the military personnel in the Calvary to ensure that the Calvary remains relevant incase of war.

            The Calvary fought on horseback. It is during the civil war that their significance was noted. It therefore became the highest honor that the horse soldier would ever hold in the American military (Lake and Rothchild 1998, 66). As the civil war continued more soldiers had to be recruited into the Calvary and by the time the civil war was over, more that two hundred and seventy two complete regiments had been formed. More than 147 of these regiments were raised from the south which housed the slave states (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 52).

Members of the army who served in other arms looked down on the Calvary believed that this arm of the military did not involve any combat. It was not until later that the government realized the potential of the Calvary in the war and supported them.

                    At the onset of the civil war the south and the north states had different levels of military in the civil war in terms of expertise and experience. The south had the advantage of a competent commander in chief who had already served the military in several other capacities. He alone was responsible for the selection of the Calvary superiors and the armory to be used.

            The North however was not that advantaged and their leader lacked the essential basic military training required to support such a position. This led to a waste of time and resources as the north looked for strategies to train their Calvary effectively. In the meantime the activities of the Calvary in the civil war had to be restricted to that of running errands.

The need to have more soldiers as the Indian resistance increased due to the distraction caused by the civil war, led to the Calvary being increased by two regiments which comprised of black slaves. These were the buffalo soldiers. As their numbers and resources have increased, the Calvary has continued to be involved in modern day security operations, raids and efforts that are geared towards reconnaissance (Mackey, 2004, 67).

The union army was enlisted to carry extra horses as they were the Calvary’s sole means of transport. This brought a complete change in the running of the activities of the Calvary. Their help was enlisted more in active combat and their units were often called upon as advance scouts. Their weapons advanced form the traditional rifle to include a saber and a carbine. They also carried pistols and rifles for extra defense (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 232).

The Calvary was also able to infiltrate in the rebel troops much more easily than the other infantry because they traveled light. The individual horses allowed them to load their saddlebags with the necessary tools of survival, allowing them days of uninterrupted combat.

The role of the Calvary particularly in scouting for the other arms of the military was highly significant in the war. This was easiest for them due to the mobility provided by the horses. They were able to scout enemy territory and deliver the necessary feedback to their respective superiors. In addition they were also able to track down enemy armies with relative ease as compared to the other arms of the military.

The Calvary was also relied on screening on the activities laid out by their force. This ensured that there was no information leaked to the enemy troops. They were responsible in relaying information among their army. This ensured that there was regular, secure and efficient communication within the soldiers.

The Calvary was often called upon by the army to pursue the enemy’s army after confrontation and defeat mostly by the other infantry. This served to demoralize the enemy lines and in turn enforced the impact of the army (Lake and Rothchild 1998, 55).  It also ensured that the enemy lines were restricted to particular areas and therefore easier to confront.

During the civil war, the Calvary was therefore a very significant force of the army. Today numerous countries have molded their Calvary’s from the American Calvary. This is based on the increased mobility which is allowed by the horses. Their role has expanded and advanced to include that of reconnaissance as well as security. The Calvary is often relied on to provide advanced levels of offense and defense attacks with a lot of technique just like other arms of the military (Mackey, 2004, 76).

The first significant battle of the civil war that the Calvary engaged in was the battle that took place at the Brandy station. This took place in Virginia in 1863. More than fifty thousand of the Calvary men fought in this battle. It was the largest of the Calvary battles during the civil war. This was the battle that led congress to advocate for an increase in the number of regiments to ten. This significant win also prompted an increased confidence within the Calvary soldiers (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 200).

            In addition to this battle, there were other similar vicious battles that the Calvary engaged in to settle the unrest that had arisen among the Southern states as well as among the Indian communities who were taking advantage of the distraction of the rest of the infantry.

            The most famous of these battles was the General Custer’s fight which took place at the Little Big Horn River. This happened in Montana. General Custer’s led the seventh Cavalry which comprised of six hundred Calvary men (Foote, 1999, 175). His team suffered agonizing defeat when they were viciously wiped out by more than four thousand Indian warriors in Sioux.

            The battle of Chancellorsville was unsuccessful attempts as the Calvary’s attempts to raid in the confederate rear were ruined by an ineffective battle plan (Foote, 1999, 233). Despite the unfavorable tenure of the land in which the war was on, the Calvary was able to maneuver due to their choice of transport. This was however blamed on the nature of the attack as well as the inexperience of the leaders at the time.

            During the civil war the first successful engagement which was carried out by the Calvary was the battle of Gaines’s mill. It took place in the second year of the civil war in Virginia. General; Lee who was heading the Confederate army by then was responsible for inflicting heavy casualties in the Federation army. More than seven thousand men from the Union army were killed over the duration of this battle.

            The battle of Gettysburg featured great contribution by the Calvary especially on the first as well as the third days. Their efforts were a success as they were able to successfully dissuade attacks from the rebel forces under the leadership of General Buford. This allowed the union infantry ample time to offer a proper defense (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 406).

            Among the battles that the Calvary participated in was the battle of Franklin which took place in 1863. There was a second battle at the same venue a year after the initial one. This battle is also refereed to as the battle of Harpeth River.

            The battle of Saylers creek took place in 1865, months before the end of the civil war. The Union Calvary force was able to successfully limit the activity of more than a fourth of confederate forces. This triggered a battle along Saylers creek (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 347). The confederate forces had no choice than to surrender to the union Calvary.

            The Calvary also played a significant role in the battle of Selma. This was fought in April, the last year of the civil war, 1865. The union Calvary defeated the confederate army in Alabama (Lake and Rothchild 1998, 87). The General Wilson, who was leading the union Calvary, was able to skillfully divide and conquer Selma irrespective of the heavy defense offered by the confederate army. This was also achieved by the strategy that the union forces employed of cutting down the confederates supplies.

            The battle of Trevillian station was the largest battle that purely involved the Calvary. It was fought in 1864.The Union Calvary was defeated by the confederate Calvary in northern Virginia. There was a lot of political pressure from Washington Dc due to impending elections. Though the union suffered more casualties, the confederate Calvary also suffered significant losses in its crew.

            The battle of Yellow Tavern was fought in 1864.This battle was highly significant because Major J.E.B Stuart was mortally wounded. There was a lot of heavy fighting and both Calvary’s suffered significant losses. The death of Gen. Stuart marked an end to efficient training in the confederate Calvary and they were able significantly impact the activities of Gen. Lee.

            The Dahlgren’s raid was an unsuccessful attempt by the union to beat the confederate army. The union army attempted to assassinate the confederate president and his cabinet unsuccessfully. It is widely speculated that the discovery of this ulterior motive, led to the assassination of the union president Abraham Lincoln later on.

            The Gettysburg campaign was fought over a period of two months. It comprised a number of battles. This campaign was the largest of the Calvary battles during the civil war. The confederate Calvary was successful in resisting the invasion of the Union forces. The union army was driven back to cemetery hill. However the Union Calvary resurged and caused heavy casualties on the confederate side (Lake and Rothchild 1998, 392).

            The raid at Grierson took place in Mississippi in 1864.It took place during the Vicksburg campaign. General Grierson was leading the union forces. There was pressure for the union forces to outdo the Calvary in terms of their expeditions. The union forces were responsible for causing much havoc and destruction on the railway lines and the store houses which the confederate forces were relying on.

            The Peninsula campaign featured a number of wars in the American civil war. This was primarily a union operation. It was initiated in Virginia under Major McClellan. There were a lot of attempts by the union army to capture Richmond and curtail the efforts of the Confederacy army. General Lee who joined the battle later on ensured that this did not happen and the union was defeated (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 163).

            The raid in Trans Mississippi theatre which is referred to as the Prices raid took place in 1864. It was pressurized by the confederate presidential campaigns for the elections which took place in 1864. Prices raid marked the last big Calvary operation on the west of Mississippi. Major Price fought the series of these battles in Missouri and Kansas. His side was however defeated by Major Pleasonton. During the series of these battles, General Price fought forty three battles. These battles lasted over a period of three months and in total he lost over six thousand soldiers. The union army won and this greatly ensured that Abraham Lincoln was re elected.

            The Straights raid which took place in 1863 is also called the battle of Day’s gap. It took place in Alabama. This raid lasted for three days and was the first of the raids that followed in Alabama. Colonel Streight led the union Calvary while Colonel Forrest was in charge of the confederate Calvary (Foote, 1999, 328). The intention of these battles was to ensure that the union forces cut the main channel of supply for the confederate forces. Their intention was to destroy the western and the Atlantic railroads which the confederate relied on to transport their supplies.

            The Maryland Campaign was also part of the battles that took place during the period of the civil war. It is also refereed to as the Antietam war. It took place in 1862 and consisted of a series of seven battles which involved the Calvary (Reed and Milligan, 2003, 421).

            Over the series of these battles in the civil war, the role of the Calvary is clearly depicted as that of providing offensive and defensive battle strategies. This was an addition of the scouting chores which they were responsible of initially.  It is because of their significant contribution during the civil war that they have remained an indispensable force in the army even today. The Calvary has become relevant in the army as a force responsible in both reconnaissance and security (Lake and Rothchild 1998, 204)

            The Calvary forces are heavily relied on by the country to provide effective defensive and offensive maneuvers every time they are called on. The levels of technology and strategies have been heightened to ensure that the state never has to face the initial quagmire of inefficiency as it did during the civil war (Lake and Rothchild 1998, 159). The Calvary has in turn diversified to include various teams responsible for their different operations. These teams are highly competent and ensure that the Calvary is able to effectively respond to the needs of the battlefield today.


Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, a narrative. New York: Vintage Books, 1999.

Lake, David, and Rothchild, Donald. The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict: Fear, Diffusion, and Escalation. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Mackey, Robert R.  The Uncivil War. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.

Reed, Rowena, and Milligan, John D. Combined Operations in the Civil War. Nebraska: Nebraska Press, 2003



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