Monday, May 28, 2012

Cavalry Heritage Day

Last Saturday we held a cavalry competition event for the public.  It was our first attempt to do something like this.  We invited the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment horse detachment from Fort Irwin, California, to join us.  We had a mounted saber event and a mounted pistol event in the morning and then individual riding demonstrations by each unit in the afternoon. 

We have ridden with the Fort Irwin guys many times in the past and have always had a good relationship with them.  As the two western-most Army horse detachments, we are kind of isolated from the rest of the Army horse community.  The 11th ACR detachment represents the cavalry as it existed in 1901 while B Troop represents the cavalry of the 1880's.  The two detachments together made for a colorful event.

It was a good day and both units had a chance to see what they need to work on before going to the National Cavalry Competition in September.  Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to do this again next year. 

B Troop and 11th ACR readying for the opening ceremony.

An 11th ACR rider on the saber course.

A B Troop rider on the pistol course. 

The 11th ACR demo team

B Troop pistol charge

Interacting sith the spectators after the demo. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dismounted Fighting

One of the myths of the old cavalry is that they always fought mounted.  This myth has been perpetuated in film, but is often advanced in Civil War battle re-enactments.  Mounted attacks are more colorful and dramatic when depicted on film and in battle re-enactments.  The truth is that mounted cavalry attacks were normally only used against other mounted units or against unprepared or scattered infantry units.  For a cavalry unit to attack a prepared infantry unit would have been suicidal.  Men on horses make very large targets for infantry and trying to hit anything with a pistol or carbine while on a galloping  horse is a difficult enterprise unless at very close range. 

In reality, a cavalry unit would typically dismount when fighting.  This practice of dismounted cavalry to fight was perfected by Phillip Sheridan during the Civil War.  However, you will never see this standard tactic depicted in the movies or in a re-enactment because it is difficult to do and somewhat boring to watch.  However, since it is the mission of B Troop is to promote the history and heritage of the cavalry, we have resolved to demonstrate the tactic of dismounting cavalry to fight on foot. 

The tactic of dismounting cavalrymen to fight requires the right equipment and lots of practice.  The Indian Wars period halter has a special link-strap that was used to bind the horses together when their riders were dismounted.  The idea was for each group of four troopers would dismount three men and have the fourth man hold the horses.  The three dismounted horses would be linked together and the fourth man would stay mounted and hold them.  The dismounted men would advance and engage the enemy with carbine fire.  While this was happening, the horse-holder would maneuver the linked horses to the rear and out of the line of fire.   

Although this all sounds very simple and straightforward, it is in reality, very difficult to do.  The men have the complicated task of mounting and dismounting with a carbine slung over their backs and the horses have to be trained to be able to be led while linked together. 

Mounting and dismounting with a slung carbine takes a fair amount of practice.  The rider must first remove his carbine from its scabbard, attach it to his carbine sling, sling it over his back, and dismount without clobbering himself in the head with the carbine.  Getting off this way is much easier than getting back on.  The first thing you discover is that the carbine sling chokes you slightly when you drop the carbine over your back.  This is not as bad, however, as when you are trying to remount and the carbine swings around to your right side and gets tangled in your leg so that you end up sitting on your own rifle. 

Our efforts to master this simple maneuver resulted in a few bruises and much hilarity.   I outdid everyone else in buffoonery when I manged to fall off my horse during the mounting effort.  My carbine had slipped to my right while mounting so I attempted to shift my weight to re-center the rifle as I slung my leg over.  At that moment, the Apache decided to shift himself to the left which caused me to fall head first over his right side.  As I lay on the ground with my trusty carbine at my side, Apache stood and looked down at me with bemused look on his face while my comrades enjoyed a good laugh at my expense. 

After we had beat ourselves senseless with this exercise, we decided to try it while linking the horses.  Again, this was initially amusing, as the horses had no clue what they were supposed to do.  I was the horse-holder and was having a hard time convincing the three linked horses that they were supposed to follow me as I wheeled to the left.  The #3 horse, the one closest to me, refused to budge and was generally annoyed about the whole activity.  However, the first and second horses figured it out and began to push him around the arc so that we were able to execute a fairly decent wheel movement while linked. 

Meanwhile, the troopers had become fairly adept at dismounting with carbines slung and forming a skirmish line.  I eventually figured out how to time the wheel movement of the linked horses so they arrived on line just as the skirmishers were returning to remount.  After we had practiced it for about an hour, we began to look like a fairly competent mounted fighting force instead of a group of confused lunatics. 

The difficulty of executing what was once a routine procedure of the cavalry, makes me wonder how often it was practiced.  Doing it with a handful of men and horses is one thing, but I can't imagine this maneuver being executed with thousands of horses.  It must have been really something to watch. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Graduation Ceremony

Fort Report B-Troop Riding School Graduation from U.S. Army Fort Huachuca on Vimeo.

This video was taken during the Cavalry Riding School graduation ceremony.  It shows just how fast the horses move out during the charge.  One of the horses, Journey, spooked at some traffic cones when his rider made a left flank.  You can see Journey back up and move away from the cones before taking off.  He still managed to get down the field ahead of the other horses though. 

It was a nice ceremony and we all went back to the stables after to celebrate with a barbecue.