13 January 2006 by Published in: Union Cavalry 2 comments

Old friend Dave Powell, knowing of my work on the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, passed along this article titled “Lancers and Dragoons” that he found in the November 14, 1863 issue of the ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL. It was so good that I thought I would share it here. Enjoy.

“In our service, both regular and volunteer, as at present organized, we have nothing but cavalry; or rather, as that is the genuine term for mounted troops, we should say we have no distinctions of corps in that arm. During the Mexican war, and since 1838, indeed, we had dragoons, at least in name, and at one time a regiment of mounted riflemen. Soon after the war broke out they were all merged into the single cavalry corps. But of lancers, we have in the regular service made not a single experiment, and but a single one, that of Colonel Rush’s regiment, among the volunteers. The fate of that is well known; the steeds are not dust, but “the lances are rust,” “turned in to the quartermaster,” and unlikely to see the light again. The regiment, losing its old designation, is now the 6th Pennsylvania cavalry. And yet in the European services the lancers have been a favorite corps, and the lance a useful weapon. The philosophy of it in charging au fond upon infantry in line or square is evident. The bayonets of the infantry, added to the length of the horses’ neck, keep the trooper at such a distance that he cannot use his sabre; while the lancer, with a weapon from eleven to sixteen feet long, overcomes the distance, and impales the footman in spite of his bayonet. On this ground Marmont recommends it strongly against infantry, but he goes on to say “all other things being equal, it is certain that a hussar or chasseur will beat a lancer; the time to parry, and return the blow, (riposter) before the lancer who has thrown himself upon them, can recover himself for defense.”

In theory at least the lance is admirable, but in practice, it is unwieldy and awkward, and, if useful at arms-length, is by no means so serviceable in a melee as a sabre. We were told by one of Rush’s men, on asking how he liked the lance: “The officers like it, but the men do not, and the officers wouldn’t if they had to use them.”

While granting that the weapon has not had a fair trial in America, we are inclined to think it better for show—a forest of spears and pennons—than for use. It is, however, but just to say that this is an individual opinion; for Lord Ellesmere, writing in the Quarterly Review for June 1855, declares his opinion—and it was not an ignorant one—“that the lance is by far the superior weapon, in the hands of a horseman bred and trained to its use.”

Dragoons, in the best appropriation of the word, are mounted infantry; men who use their horses only to get over great distances rapidly, and then dismount to fight. We are glad to see that this arm is being renewed in our service, and it will be especially valuable for reconnoissances, and sudden dashes at point which if taken should be held. Cavalry, as such, only capture and turn over to infantry. Well-drilled dragoons will both capture and hold.

In so vast a service as ours, with such various and manifold demands upon our skill, ingenuity and cleverness, it is worth considering whether a reorganization of our cavalry would not be an excellent movement; dividing it into several arms and distinctions of service.”

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  1. Dave Kelly
    Fri 13th Jan 2006 at 11:44 am

    Why heck yes. I’d jin right up iffn they’d give me one of them thar Chasseur a Cheval de la Garde uniforms ta ware. I’d be ev’n jimdandier than a zoooooauve…. (chortle).

    Wonder if the Poles prefered the sabre or the lance on the PKWIII?

    Q: Ginral Cooke wadda ya get when cavalry charges infantry?
    A: Dog Food. Lots a dogfood.

    (Okay. I’ll stop. Time for this third shifter to go to bed anyway. Thanks for the humor in uniform a la 1863.)

  2. Fri 13th Jan 2006 at 12:10 pm


    You’re welcome. I thought it funny enough to put it up here.


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