The infantry and the artillery of an army live and move and have their being in a sphere widely different from that of the cavalry.
The first named arms of the service perform the “heavy work” in the great pitched battles.
When armies face each other, and the moment has come for a final trial of strength, it is the infantry and artillery to which a commander looks.
When the sun rises on one of these days of history, the foot-soldier or the cannoneer feels that all his energies will be required.
If he falls he falls; but if the enemy's bullets spare him, he can look for rest on the morrow — for a great pitched battle decides everything.
The column may advance or retire, but it seldom fights very heavily thereafter.
The weather, too, counts greatly for or against active service with the artillery or infantry — the winter is fatal.
Then the wheels of the guns sink in the slushy soil; wagons cannot move with rations; and thus conquered by the rain and snow, the cannoneers and musket-bearers settle down in their comfortable camps, build their log-cabins, or their arbours of boughs; and days, and weeks, and months pass by in perfect quiet, until the spring sun dries the roads, and the thunder of artillery and musketry again roars across the fields of May or June.
Thus the gunners and footmen bear the brunt in the great
battles, to retire thereafter to camp and rest.
Their ranks may be decimated, but those who survive enjoy something like repose.
They build their chimneys, broil their meat, smoke their pipes, and lounge, and laugh, and sing around the camp-fire, with “none to make them afraid.”
The life of the cavalry is different.
They do not perform the hard work in the conflicts of armies, where the improved firearms of modern times would speedily destroy their horses-and horses were beyond the value of gold, almost, to the South
in the recent war-nor are the losses of the cavalry in any one engagement as great as those of the infantry.
But the work performed by the mounted men of an army is incessant.
They fight throughout the year — in winter as in summer-when the ground is a quagmire, as when it is firm.
They cannot rest, from the very nature of things, for they are the “eyes and ears” of an army.
Their duty is to watch-and to watch, the cavalier must be in the saddle with carbine ready.
He must watch by night as well as day; for fright is the season of surprises, and to guard the army against surprise is the chief duty of the cavalry.
Seeing the long column falling slowly back on days of conclusive battle, the infantry are apt to sneer, and think, if they do not sayand they say
do the hard fighting, the cavalry the fancy work!”
or, “Here comes the cavalry, going to the reara fight is on hand!”
They forget, however, one thing — that while the infantry has been resting in camp, with regular rations and sound sleep, the cavalry have been day and night in the saddle, without rations at all, watching and fighting all along the front.
Let justice be done to all; and it is not the noble infantry or artillery of the late army of Northern Virginia who will be guilty of injustice to their brethren of the cavalry, who, under Stuart
, and the Lees, did that long, hard work, leaving Virginia
, and Pennsylvania
strewed with their dead bodies.
But a comparison of the relative value of the different arms was not the writer's purpose.
His aim was to point out the contrast which exists in the mere mode of living.
The foot-soldier is confined to his camp for the greater portion of the time, and
sameness rather than variety, common-place rather than incident, marks his days.
In the cavalry this does not exist.
As there is no rest for the cavalry-man, so there is no dull routine-no “every day the same.”
His life is full of movement, variety, incident, and adventure; he is ever in the saddle, and fighting, either as a unit of the long drawn column, advancing or retiring with the army, or in scouts and skirmishes — the theatre of his work shifts quietly as do the scenes of a drama on the stage.
All that makes the hard and brutal trade of war endurable seems to gather around him, wreathing with brilliant flowers the keen edge of the sabre.
The bugle sounding “Boots and saddles!”
and then “To horse!”
replaces the drum.
“To horse and away!”
is the cavalry motto.
Once in the saddle and moving, his life of quick transitions, odd experiences, and perilous or grotesque adventures, begins in earnest.
There is a “glorious uncertainty” about his movements which is not without a singular charm.
He is not so much a common soldier, as a gay knight-errant, knowing not where he may lay his head at the end of his day's journey-certain only that it will not be beneath the shelter of a tent, nor with any regular ration upon which to stay his hunger.
The infantry and artillery have wagons and rations; and theoretically the cavalry have also-but only in theory.
They are never “up” these dilatory wagons-and as to tents, those are a luxury of which the cavalry-man seldom even dreams.
The blanket behind his saddle is his tent; he lies down by the bivouac fire supperless often; neither quarter-master nor commissary favours him; and when he “forages” for food, he is denounced as a “straggler.”
But the cavalry-man accepts philosophically the uncomplimentary opinion entertained of him, in view of the certain charms of his existence.
He is the child of adventure, roaming the fields and forests, and revelling in his freedom.
He knows whence he comes, but not whither the winds will waft him. He is never at rest; never certain what the next hour, nay, the coming moment, will bring forth.
At any instant may come a surprise, an attack, the bang of carbines, the clash of sabresand then, pursuit or retreat, defeat or victory.
If he falls, he
falls; if he survives, he sleeps serenely, wrapped up in his blanket, the root of a tree or a saddle for a pillow, overhead “the canopy,” all studded with the fires of night, and dreams of scenes and faces far away.
Such a life is ever fresh, and possesses never-ending attractions.
To-day an exhausting march and a heavy fight-to-morrow rest, and stories, and jests, and laughter; one day a feast of the rarest — the next a famine of the sorest.
To ride on, hour after hour, through the gloom of night, until the frame is weary unto death, and the cavalry-man totters in the saddle for very exhaustion and sleeplessness — that is not pleasant.
But then sleep is magical when he halts at last; food is ambrosial when he broils his chance slice of bacon on the end of a stick in the blaze of the camp-fire!
To the cavalry-man belongs the fresh life of the forest-the wandering existence which brings back the days of old romance.
Do you wish to form some conception of the life of that model cavalry-man and gentleman, Don Quixote
To do so, you have only to “join the cavalry.”
Like the Don
, your cavalryman goes through the land in search of adventures, and finds many.
He penetrates retired localities-odd, unknown nooksmeeting with curious characters and out-of-the-way experiences, which would make the fortune of a romance writer.
Here, far away from the rushing world and the clash of arms, he finds bright faces, and is welcomed by “heaven's last best gift” --for woman is ever the guardian angel of the soldier.
She smiles upon him when he is gloomy; feeds him when he is hungry; and it is often the musical laughter of a girl which the cavalry-man hears as he rides on musing — not the rattle of his miserable sabre!
Thus romance, sentiment, and poetry meet him everywhere.
And is he fond of the grotesque?
That meets him, too, in a thousand places.
Of the pathetic?
Ah! that salutes him often on the fierce arena of war!
Thus, living a fresh life, full of vivid emotions, he passes his days and nights, till the fatal bullet comes-laughing, fighting, feasting, starving, to the end.
His life is better than a collegiate education, for it teaches him the mysteries of human nature.
He does not pass his days amid
social circles, marked by respectable uniformity and maddening common-place, but is thrown in contact with every species of “moving accident,” every variety of the human species; scouts, “guerillas,” secret agents, prisoners, night-hawks, spies, friends in blue coats, enemies in gray-all that the highways and the byways, the fields, the forests, and the day and the night contain, pass before the eyes of the cavalry-man.
He sees the adventurous life of the ranger and partisan, hears the ring of the sabre, the crack of sharpshooters, the roar of cannon, and the shouts of the squadrons as they charge.
His is the existence of the rover: the sudden peril, the narrow escape, and the fun and frolic of the bivouac.
When he summons his recollections, it is not so much the “great events” of war as its pictures and incidents of which he discourses.
He revives its romantic scenes and gay adventures, only-remembering its smiles, sighs, laughter, tears, its gloom or sunlight, as it actually lowered or shone.
The writer of this eulogy has carried a musket, albeit he never did hard work with it; has served in the artillery, and loves it, as he honours the great arm which thundered upon every battle-field, and held the rear, all along the Valley
, against Sheridan
, and fired the last gun of the war at Appomatox.
It is simply not possible that he could utter a word against those heroes of the infantry and artillery whom he is proud to call his comrades; but he remembers with most interest and pleasure the gay days when he-“followed the feather” of Stuart
, that fleur des chevaliers
. In the saddle, near that good knight of the nineteenth century, war became a splendid drama, rather than mere bloody work; a great stage, whereon the scenes were ever shifting, and the “exits” were all made to the sound of the bugle!
That sound was stirring; and recalling now his various experiences, the writer of this page hears the ring of the bugle, not the roll of the drum; remembers the life of the cavalry rather than that of the infantry or the artillery.
Some of these memories are here recorded.
The narratives are necessarily egotistical in appearance, since the writer was compelled to speak of what he saw in person, not by others' eyes, to give any value to his recollections.
The reader is solicited,
however, to regard this circumstance as unavoidable, and further to believe that a fondness for making himself conspicuous is not a trait of the writer's character.
For the rest, the pictures he has drawn are accurate, as far as his ability has enabled him to present figures and events in their real colours.
If the record is dull, it is the dulness of truth, not the stupidity of a bad romance.