Question of the Week: 8/23-8/29/21

In your opinion, what’s the most effective cavalry skirmish/battle of the Civil War? Why?

24 Responses to Question of the Week: 8/23-8/29/21

  1. If by “effective” you mean “impactful,” then I would argue for Yellow Tavern and the death of Jeb Stuart in 1864.

    1. I’m curious about that answer, my Polish Brother. Do you have a sec to elaborate? (I’m one of those folks who doesn’t think Stuart’s death has much impact on Lee’s overall intelligence-gathering ability.)

      1. Gathering raw intelligence is only half the job. It is almost worthless without someone to sift through the raw data, evaluate it and present it to the commander in order to make a command decision. For example, Stuart’s discovery of Howard’s dangling corpa at Chancellorsville and recommending a flank attack, Lee having as much cavalry with him at Gettysburg as Stuart had with him on his absence from Lee, bur no one to evaluate the intelligence gathered by the cavalry with Lee without Stuart present, and finally Grant’s ability to disappear from Lee at Cold Harbor, cross the James and show up at Petersburg without Lee knowing, after Stuart was killed. I agree with Kolakowski.

  2. The most successful and yet under-appreciated cavalry operation was neither battle nor skirmish: it was the withdrawal of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry (and anyone who could ride a horse) out of the trap that Fort Donelson had become. He departed that bastion overlooking the Cumberland River wee hours of Sunday, February 16th 1862, rode across “impassable” Lick Creek… and (according to NPS) Forrest and one thousand Rebels “lived to fight another day.”

  3. Does Buford on July 1, 1863 count? His calvary started a skirmish which resulted in a three day victorious battle.

  4. If you go by the theory that the Battle of Gettysburg is the turning point of the war, then you must consider Custer’s attack on the third day of the battle to stop the cavalry attack by the Confederates important.

  5. Brandy Station. While not a Union victory, it did prove that the Union’s cavalry “had arrived”.

  6. Grierson’s Mississippi raid would be my top choice. I think it rivaled the audacity of JEB, Mosby, and Forrest, but with the added benefit of distracting the confederates long enough for Grant to advance his operations around Vicksburg.

  7. On a tactical level, Forrest’s victory at Brice’s Crossroads. Forrest routed a Union combined task force of infantry and cavalry nearly three times his number that had been dispatched from Memphis at Sherman’s command to eliminate Forrest as an ongoing nuisance to Sherman’s supply trains during the Atlanta campaign. Forrest won a stunning victory at the Crossroads and then chased the fleeing Union infantry and cavalry all the way back to Memphis taking 1600 prisoners in the process. Hard to think of a more complete cavalry victory during the Civil War.

  8. I am impressed with all of the great suggestions, together with the supporting rationale, listed above. I know what was NOT – Kilcavalry’s July 3 operations on the south end of the Gettysburg field. But if I were to pick one, it would be Captain Miller’s flank attack on July 3 in contravention to his orders to guard the Old Dutch Road intersection. He earned a Medal of Honor! Hampton might agree.

  9. Gettysburg, for 2 reasons: First, Buford’s troopers on July 1st demonstrated the two major advantages Cavalry has over superior numbers of Infantry: higher rate of fire and mobility. Without Buford’s delay action, MG Reynolds would not have been able to bring his force to bear before Confederates occupied Seminary Ridge / Oak Ridge and the town itself. Second, Custer’s bold attack on July 3rd demonstrated how a smaller force could attack and destroy a larger force in detail.

  10. I’m going to go with Van Dorn’s raid against Holly Springs in December 1862. It set Grant back significantly, forcing Federals to abandon their thrust overland through Mississippi and instead concentrate on a river route.

  11. I would go with Grierson’s Raid because of it’s strategic impact,been though Forrest was already elsewhere. I think Holly Springs combined with Forrest’s Raid at the same time to make Grant admit the obvious, which is that the inland route was impractical. He was just too far from his naval supports.

  12. Grierson’s raid helped Grant land below Vicksburg
    A music teacher who didn’t like horses drew attention Arawak from Grant and disrupted the rail lines.

  13. I am going to select Jeb Stuart’s ride around McClellan’s army in the Peninsula campaign of 1862. This allowed Lee to dig trenches to protect Richmond while he planned to fight north of the Chickahominy.

  14. Here’s an often overlooked cavalry action. Custer’s eventually successful charge against Walker’s artillery park at Appomattox Station on April 8, 1865. Was this the next-to-the-last straw needed for Lee to accept surrender?

  15. On July 2, 1863 at Hunterstown, PA, Wade Hampton’s Division held off a large part of the Federal cavalry, led by Judson Kilpatrick from attacking the left flank of the Confederate infantry at Gettysburg, but an excellent opportunity was missed to capture, wound or even kill Brig. Gen George Armstrong Custer after his horse was shot out from under him during a reckless and daring charge he led against Hampton’s troops. It was pretty much by luck that Custer was rescued by one of his horsemen, who was then able to skedaddle back up the Hunterstown road away from the Confederates. Five companies of Cobb’s Legion Cavalry Battalion did most of the fighting for Hampton that day. They lost 9 killed, 5 wounded and 7 missing. Four company commanders were among the dead, and the second in command of the Legion cavalry, Lt. Col. William G. Delony, was severely wounded. Even though Custer’s men suffered more casualties, the Legion cavalry, which was already not at full strength during the Gettysburg campaign, was kept from participating in the battle at the East Cavalry Battlefield the following day. I believe the smaller battle at Hunterstown helped the Federal Cavalry become the victors on July 3rd, especially since Custer had managed to escape the day before, and the Legion cavalry was too banged up to help their fellow cavalrymen.

  16. Benjamin Henry Grierson was the top mounted leader of the Civil War. His 1863 raid the length of Mississippi outclasses anything Stuart or Sheridan, let alone Bedford Forrest, did.

    Grierson got kicked in the face as a boy. He was in a coma for a few days and under all sorts of restrictions by his family for a few months. By a sad coincidence, a horse raising family we know recently had a “gentle” horse kick the wife and put her in a coma which eventually required turning off life support. If any horse were to kick me, no matter what the extend of the injury I would never go near one again! Ranch-raised Ed Bearss remarked the horse is not the dumbest animal in the barnyard: that honor goes to a chicken. But the horse is bigger and does more damage.

    Biographies of Grierson and account of the raid mention he feared horses as a result of getting kicked. But isn’t that is a 20th and 21st century outlook. In the 19th, horses were THE means of transportation. If you are injured in a bad auto wreak, would you be afraid of cars? Good point! Ben not only was a superb Civil War cavalryman, but also the post-war colonel of the 10th “Buffalo Soldier” Cavalry. It doesn’t sound like he feared horses!

    Benjamin Henry Grierson was a pre-war music teacher and musician — who knew frontier Illinois could support a musician, well they really couldn’t. An abolitionist and strong Lincoln supporter in 1860, the outbreak of the War provided Grierson with the opportunity. Who would have thought a musician would make a great cavalryman?

    Colonel Grierson got his big chance in April of 1863 when Grant and Sherman sent him and his brigade – 1,700 troopers – 600 miles the length of Mississippi to distract Pemberton and the Confederate defenders of Vicksburg. It was brilliantly and almost bloodlessly done. Total casualties for Grierson during the raid were three killed, seven wounded, and nine missing. Five sick and wounded men were left behind along the route, too ill to continue.

    His ultimate reward was the appointment in 1866 as regular army colonel of the new African-American regiment, the 10th Cavalry.

    I submit nothing Sheridan or Forrest or Stuart did had anything approaching Grierson’s impact on the course of the Civil War.

    See the Leckies’ fine biography of Ben and Alice, _Unlikely Warriors: General Benjamin H. Grierson and His Family_ for details as well as Tim Smith’s new history, _ The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi_

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