15 October 2005 by Published in: General musings No comments yet

Given George S. Patton, Jr.’s success as an armored commander and his success as an army commander, it’s easy to forget that he was an old horse cavalryman. In 1921, Patton, then a major in the 3rd Cavalry, wrote this essay, which sums up the mentality of the horse cavalryman. The essay is titled “The Cavalryman”. It’s a favorite:

“There is always room at the top,” is a favorite phrase for the advertisements of correspondence courses.

This is true in all walks of life, but in none is it truer than in regard to leaders of Cavalry.

Since the time when the increased complexity of war made the division into several arms necessary, there have been many good generals of armies, good infantrymen and good artillerymen not a few, but the good cavalrymen can be counted on the fingers of your hands.

This does not mean that the leader of cavalry must be of superior clay to his brethren of the other arms, but it does mean that he must possess a combination of qualities not often found in one individual.

He must have a passion – not simply a liking – for horses, for nothing short of an absorbing passion can make him take the necessary interest in his mount.

A diploma, even from [Fort] Riley, does no more than give a good start on the line which must be followed and developed.

He must be a veterinarian in theory and practice; a farrier and a horsehoer better than any man in his troop; a stable sergeant and horse trainer; a saddler. Above all he must possess a sense of obligation to his mount, which, with the whip of a remorseless conscience makes him – him personally – seek the welfare of his horses above his own.

No one acquires these qualities at teas or card parties, or by slapping his leg with his whip.

Such knowledge can only be acquired by reading books on horse diseases, on horse management, on conditioning, and training. By association with horsemen of all sorts and conditions wherever met. What he reads and sees and hears will not all be useful, or all correct. Much of it will be bunk, but little by little, through the years, constant research and above all, constant experimentation will lead finally to the acquirement of a little knowledge.
But, while so learning and working, he must remember that the things he e is accomplishing are not ends. He is neither a stable sergeant, nor a horseshoer, nor a veterinarian; such arts are but means. The end is to become a cavalry officer who will be a success in war.

The officer who never looks after his ponies after a game to see that they are properly put away; or who at the end of a long march or hard drill says, “Sergeant, fix up the horses, I’ll be back soon,” and then beats it, is not building for war; is not earning his pay. He is without pride and lazy, and the men know it and despise him while neglecting the horses.

I have said that all the foregoing things must be done with the object of obtaining success in war; but why?

Because, success in war depends on getting to the right place at the right time. Neither result may be attained if the horses play out. When the great moment for which he has lived comes, all his knowledge, no matter how hard he has worked, will seem pitifully inadequate to enable him to get exhausted and half starved horses over waterless country on time. Time, I repeat; let him brand that word into his soul. Nearly all the remediable failures of the world result from being late.

An now, suppose that the officer has possessed himself of these qualities; affection for the horse; tenacity of purpose; a studious mind; a feeling of obligation and a sense of time. What are the other qualifications he must acquire?

A thorough knowledge of war by reading histories, lives of cavalrymen, by the study of the tactics of his arm and by the constant working of problems. This, too, will take strength of will and hard work, but, again assuming that he has succeeded, what is the final quality which he must acquire?

He must rain himself into the possession of a Gambler’s Courage.

Since General Chauvel has destroyed the idea that the horse is precluded from the battlefield, and has shown that bullets are impotent to stop determined valor, the successful cavalryman must educate himself to say Charge! I say educate himself, for the man is not born who can say it out of hand. There are several reasons for this.

For years, we have been taught that fire is irresistible, our experience on the target range has strengthened the myth. We picture sheets of cupro-nickel (I had almost said lead) sweeping in devastating hurricane over the field.

At maneuvers we have been taught to skip on foot from bush to rock-like sand fleas on the beach.

Civilization has affected us; we abhor personal encounter. Many a man will risk his life, with an easy mind, in a burning house, who recoils from having his face punched. We have been taught to restrain our emotions, to look upon anger as low, until many of us have never experienced the God sent ecstasy of unbridled wrath. We have never felt our eyes screw up, our temples throb, and the red mist gather in our sight.

And we expect that a man, the result of all this, shall, in an instant, the twinkling of an eye, direct himself of all restraint of all caution and hurl himself on the enemy, a frenzied beast, lusting to probe his foeman’s guts with three feet of steel or shatter his brains with a bullet. Gentlemen, it cannot be done – not without mental practice.

That is why it is easier to attack on foot than to charge mounted. It seems more refined. There, in front, are those dear futile bushes of maneuvers, the bullets sing and whisper but there is more time to get used to them. It takes courage, higher moral courage to walk to death than to gallop at it. But, it is the form of courage which our civilization has given us. It is the courage of the burning house; not of the bloody nose.

Therefore, you must school yourself to savagery. You must imagine how it will feel when your sword hilt crashes into the breast bone of your enemy. You must picture the wild exaltation of the mounted charge when the lips draw back in a snarl and the voice cracks with passion.

While on the march or at horse exercise, you must say to yourself, “There is the enemy at the corner! What do I do? Charge!!” You must ride stiff fences, you must play polo.

When you have acquired the ability to develop on necessity, momentary and calculated savagery, you can keep your twentieth century clarity of vision with which to calculate the chances of whether to charge or fight on foot, and having decided on the former, the magic word will transform you temporarily into a frenzied brute.

To use the words which Conan Doyle puts in the mouth of his hero Gerard, you have equipped yourselves with, “A heart of fire and a brain of ice.”

To sum up, then, you must be: a horse master; a scholar; a high minded gentleman; a cold blooded hero; a hot blooded savage. At one and the same time, you must be a wise man and a fool. You must not get fat or mentally old, and you must be a personal Leader.

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