From General August V. Kautz’s war-time manual, Customs of Service for Officers of the Army, we have Kautz’s list of the qualifications required for a good cavalry commander. As Kautz himself was a cavalryman, this makes for an interesting list.
687. CAVALRY.—A Cavalry Commander requires peculiar qualifications, that are far more rare than for any other arm of the service. He should, first of all, be young, and of fine physical qualities, capable of enduring great fatigue. He should be quick of thought and decision, without being rash; he should be able to form his plans rapidly and clearly, and execute with confidence.
688. He should be devoted to this branch of the service, passionately fond of the horse, unremitting in his care and attention to his command, watching over men and horses, and jealous of their abuse, guarding and protecting them, so that they may be in the best possible condition for the moment of action. When that moment arrives, he should receive it confidently, and should “go in” with a method akin to rashness, counting only on success, and regardless of the cost.
689. The capacity to go from place to place, independent of guides, or with the aid of a map only (that innate knowledge of locality so rarely found), is an essential of the first importance to a Cavalry Commander. He must not be easily misled, and be able to know intuitively whether he is going right or wrong. The whole object of an expedition may fail by a want of capacity to go by the shortest and most available route to the destination; for the main merit of Cavalry is its rapidity of movement, made available by distancing the enemy in seizing a weak point before he can protect it.
690. The improvements in firearms have produced some modifications in the use of Cavalry. It is seldom that Cavalry can approach near enough to charge without being exposed to a destructive fire at long range. The opportunities for the use of the sabre are much more rare; the nature of our country is such that a weaker force can always avoid a stronger mounted force by seeking a wood, or a fence, or a stream, for cover, from which, with the long ranged arm, it can constantly harass its mounted foe as far as it can be seen.
691. This facility to take cover against Cavalry at any time renders it necessary for the Cavalry to be provided with a carbine of long range, so that the horses may be left in rear, and the Cavalry dismount, and act temporarily as Infantry, to overcome obstacles insurmountable for Cavalry; or having availed itself of the rapid movement of the horses to seize a strategic point, that the Cavalry may dismount and hold it like entrenched Infantry; for pure Cavalry cannot hold positions on the defensive—it must either fight to win or run away.
692. In an open country unobstructed by fences, hedges, ravines, or woods, Cavalry is of great service to watch the enemy, to pick up stragglers, carry intelligence, and to harass the enemy. But its chances for charging depend upon the character of the foe, and the nature of their arms. Infantry indifferent in discipline, armed with short range guns, are still assailable by good Cavalry; and good Infantry will cause severe loss to Cavalry, even where successfully attacked; but even the best of Infantry may be surprised and taken unawares.
693. The great merit of Cavalry consists in its celerity of movement; but this does not mean that the horse should be kept constantly at a dashing pace. On the contrary, the habitual gait of Cavalry is a walk. It is only when confronted with the enemy, and where celerity of movement is necessary to be exercised for very short periods to gain definite results, that it is justifiable to urge the horse to greater speed than a walk; then to decide definitely, and execute with rapidity, is the province of the Cavalry leader.
694. It is better on an extended march to keep up a continuous walk for twenty-four hours, than to double the speed and make the same distance in twelve hours. The best horses would fail in the latter case, whilst most horses could do the former without injury. The load which a Cavalry horse must carry defeats any comparison with the saddle horse of the civilian; the equipments that are attached to the saddle, the sabre on one side, and the carbine on the other, the picket rope and pin, the halter, the nose-bag and forage-bag, the haversack and canteen, and often other things disposed about the horse and the men, may all be carried very conveniently at a walk by the horse, but when urged at a trot, or a gallop, are very serious obstacles, and a few miles at those gaits without interruption will soon end his usefulness, even on the best of roads.
695. A march should be conducted, as follows: the column should move out by fours, if possible; otherwise by twos, or by file; but each squadron should regulate its own march; the leading files of each squadron should keep the required gait, which should be a walk on all ordinary marches; squadrons regulate their distances by increasing or slowing the walk gradually; rear files rushing forward at a trot, or gallop, thus crowding on the heels of the horses in front, and then halting suddenly for room to go on, is a great injury to the horses, and an evidence of very bad Cavalry.
696. The Captain or Commander of the squadron should march in rear of his squadron, so as to control the disposition the men have to leave the column on the slightest pretext; none should be allowed to leave, except in cases of absolute necessity, and then the Captain (who should be provided with written permits) should give the proper authority, and it should be required of each man to report his return; otherwise the men will be constantly falling out, and once out of the column and away from the officer, they are liable to commit depredations, or they break their horses down in riding from house to house, or place to place, in search of anything or nothing, with that want of consideration often found among soldiers.
697. Halts need not be frequent, two or three in a day’s march are quite sufficient. Sometimes the obstacles to be passed render halts necessary; and whenever they occur, if only for a few moments, the men should dismount; at such times a few mouthfuls of grass or other food is very refreshing to the horse. The opportunity to water the horses should always be considered and ordered in advance, and should be counted as a halt or rest. On a forced march the horses should not be halted, but they should be relieved fifteen minutes every hour, by dismounting the men, and requiring them to march. For a march of a day more, the walk is the most rapid gait, the Cavalry will go farther in less time, and be in better condition at that gait than any other; the time must be saved by making fewer halts, and marching more hours.
698. On campaigns, the Cavalry is often improperly used. It is a great expense to the Government, although no doubt a great comfort to the Commander of an Army, if he can surround his command with a cordon of Mounted Sentinels, five or six miles out in front of his Infantry pickets; but he can have little knowledge in the use of this auxiliary arm, when he wastes his horse-flesh in so reckless and improvident a manner.
699. The proper place for the Cavalry of an Army is in reserve, so that it may be available in the shortest possible time. If it is out on picket, and widely scattered, the concentration of it fatigues and delays it, and it goes upon the expedition half broken down, and behind time. The rule is never to use the Cavalry where Infantry will do as well or better, and particularly not for picket duty. Infantry is far better for this duty, and only sufficient Cavalry should be used to act as couriers, and to patrol the principal avenues of approach, in connection with the Infantry.
700. Cavalry should not be used as Infantry. Dismounting the men and sending the horses to the rear for days, or even hours, thus separating the two, is a violation of this rule; but it may sometimes be necessary, as when a Cavalry column is pushed forward rapidly to seize a point that can only be held by dismounting; but in such a case Infantry should always be sent as soon as possible to take the place of the dismounted Cavalry. Men and horses cannot be separated any length of time without a proportionate injury to the latter.
701. The embarrassing feature of Cavalry is forage; the horses must be fed, and the feed cannot be transported any great distance, without superior facilities for transportation. In an agricultural district, however, a Cavalry column of almost any size moving through the country will find sufficient to subsist the horses, if a proper system of foraging is adopted. This requires the utmost vigilance. Loosely conducted, it is exceedingly demoralizing and furnishes opportunities for every kind of excesses; especial care should be taken where it may be the policy to conciliate the inhabitants.
702. Recent improvements in arms and equipments have made it necessary that the greater portion of our Cavalry should be armed with repeating carbines and metallic percussion cartridges. The sabre may be dispensed with altogether, or if forming part of the equipment, should be strapped to the saddle. Such a force is almost as formidable as Infantry, and its principal use is to surprise and capture strategic points, and hold them until they can be occupied by the Infantry; they act as skirmishers or flankers to the army when advancing, or retreating. They go into action generally dismounted, and their horses are used only as a means of transportation. Such Cavalry is of special value in a wooded or broken country, where the horses may be covered, and the character of the troops thus concealed from the enemy.
703. Cavalry lightly equipped with sabre and pistol, and used mainly for couriers for carrying intelligence, and watching the enemy, in connection with the Infantry pickets, has not lost its value in this respect, and should be supplied to the Army in proportion to its necessities. The signal branch of the service might be economically united with this arm. But the value of the horse as derived from the force and shock of a charge is fast passing away; as a means of pursuit, of transportation, and rapid movement, he has rather gained than lost in value.