The regular cavalry was but a handful, and when President Lincoln
issued his call for volunteers, little or no cavalry was accepted.
Even when need for it was forced on the North
, it took the Federal
War Department a long time to realize that an efficient cavalry ready for field service could not be extemporized in a day.
Strange as it may now seem, the Federal
authorities intended, in the beginning, to limit the cavalry force of the Union
army to the six regular regiments; and even such a veteran soldier as General Scott
gave it as his opinion that, owing to the broken and wooded character of the field of operations between the North and South, and the improvements in rifled cannon, the duties of cavalry would be unimportant and secondary.
Only seven troops of regular cavalry were available for the first battle of Bull Run
, in 1861, but the firm front which they displayed in covering the confused and precipitate retreat of the Federal
army, probably saved a large part of the main body from capture; but they never received the recognition that was deserved.
However, the importance of cavalry was not altogether unappreciated, for we find, at Gettysburg
, the Union
cavalry of the Army of the Potomac aggregating nearly thirteen thousand officers and men. The close of the war saw Sheridan
with fifteen thousand cavalrymen, while Wilson
, in the South
, was sweeping Mississippi
with an army of horsemen.
But the evolution of this vast host from insignificant beginnings was a slow process, fraught with tremendous labor.
In the South
, lack of good highways forced the Southerner
to ride from boyhood, while contemporaneously the Northerner
, with his improved roads, employed wheeled vehicles as a means of transportation.
But aside from this positive advantage to Southern organization, the Confederate
leaders seemed, from the very beginning of the Civil War
, to appraise cavalry and its uses at its true valuation; while the Northern