First Virginia Cavalry

Mounted Cavalry

Just because one owns a horse and knows how to ride does not automatically make one a cavalryman.  We move and fight as a unit, and both you and your mount are going to need a lot of training before you can effectively move with a group, flank that Union artillery that's been pounding us all morning, and take down the Yankee infantry company that's been protecting it.

Your horse may be a gentle and well-behaved soul, but without proper noise conditioning, the first time a 12 pound bronze Napoleon opens up a hundred yards away, you'll likely be on the ground with your noble steed heading for the barn at Mach Two.  Safety is our #1 focus at all times - there's a lot of powder being burned out there and the battlefield bears little in common with your local ring where you've been practicing dressage on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

The Civil War era was still under the general influence of Napoleonic tactics, with large masses of infantry moving as a cohesive unit, lining up hundreds abreast, and loading and firing on command at a similar infantry line perhaps no more than a hundred yards away.  This was the norm in the earlier days of terribly inaccurate muskets where massed firepower trumped individual rifle marksmanship and the group who could hold it's line the longest was generally considered the "winner".  The fact that the development of the rifle-musket and minie ball ( see Weapons ) made the infantry deadly out to hundreds of yards did not immediately change the old-school tactics - leading to the slaughter that marked the Civil War from the onset.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, who today is best remembered for his work as a botanist, introducing a Mexican flower to the U.S. (later named the Poinsettia in his honor), wrote the first official tactics manual for mounted dragoons and cavalry.  It was approved and published in 1841 by the War Department, known by troopers then as simply "Poinsett's Tactics."  These were the cavalry tactics taught at the military academy at West Point.  Poinsett's work taught a double-rank formation for combat, much different than a new manual to be published just before the Civil War began by Philip St. George Cooke, whose manual taught the long, single-rank formation for combat.  Today, most mounted cavalry units follow either Poinsett's or Cooke's manual, and our unit employs Poinsett's as the standard drill manual.  New recruits are advised to obtain a copy ( available from many sutlers ) and begin a study of it.

Your training as a 1st Virginia Cavalry trooper will include many things.. including the recognition of standard bugle calls and hand signals from your officers which will soon have you riding boot-to-boot in the ranks, enjoying the sheer adventure of it all, and above all - keeping safe.

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