American military reliance on cavalry peaked during the Civil War. There were more than 1 million cavalry troops between Union and Confederate forces, accounting for nearly one-in-every-five enlisted soldiers. And over the course of the war, the military role of cavalry units evolved considerably.
In today’s modern military, the duties of horse-mounted cavalry units are strictly ceremonial. But before the mechanization of the U.S. military, cavalry troops were indispensable. In the early years of the Civil War, cavalry troops were typically deployed for scouting, patrolling, and escort missions. By the war’s end, cavalry units were used as effective and highly mobile strike forces.
Throughout the war, the Confederacy was outmatched by federal forces in nearly every quantifiable measure – from money and manpower to guns and supplies. Cavalry units were no exception. According to The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database, maintained by the National Park Service, Union armies had more than 675,000 cavalry troops, compared to about 467,000 mounted Confederate troops. This imbalance is also reflected in Civil War cavalry enlistment figures by state or territory. (Here is a look at the 20 greatest armies of the Civil War.)
Using historical records compiled by the NPS, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the most cavalry troops in the Civil War. Supplementary data on where Union cavalry units were assembled is from A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Civil War statistician Frederick H. Dyer, first published in 1908. Companies generally comprised about 1,200 mounted troops, while battalions were made up of about 330, and companies, 100.
In cavalry units of both the North and South, cavalry troop weaponry typically consisted of sabers, revolvers, and breech-loading, single-shot or repeating carbines. Cavalry firearms were relatively easy to reload on horseback, and though cavalry carbines had limited range, relative to infantry rifles, their shorter barrels made them more maneuverable. Many confederate cavalry troops also carried sawed-off shotguns and cut-down hunting rifles. (Here is a look at the largest battles of the Civil War.)
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