What cavalry officers wanted - circa 1864

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Todd
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Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:27 pm

A very enlightening letter, written by the well regarded Capt Joseph P. Ash, 5th US Cavalry. The content will tell most of the details, and peaks the interest for where the results of the questionnaire may be now... This was published in the first volume of the United States service magazine, in the late spring of 1864.

And yes, it WAS published, and is now available via Google Books. :roll:
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CORRESPONDENCE.

Camp Near Mitchel Station, Va., March 25, 1864. Editor "united States Service Magazine:"

Dear Sir :—There is nothing more needed in our army than a journal with an army circulation, through the pages of which, officers might exchange opinions upon subjects of interest to the service, resulting from practical experience in the field with their respective corps. Such a journal would do much towards promoting the efficiency of every branch of the service.

The Ordnance Department, some months ago, finding the necessity of some such channel of communication as this, sent a set of printed questions, as to the merits or demerits of each item of cavalry equipment, to the company commanders of cavalry, to be by them answered and returned, at the same time inviting more extended remarks from those who chose to make them.

With the understanding that this publication of opinions is one of the primary objects of the "United States Service Magazine," I request a place in your columns for the following suggestions relative to the equipment of a cavalry soldier (they being the subject-matter of my official report to the Ordnance Department), and to state that, although the result of a very limited experience, they are upon subjects I have studied with interest.

The Bit.—The bit now furnished by the Ordnance Department is of three sizes, all unnecessarily heavy, clumsy, and severe, and yet the very reverse of durable. I may here say that in the issuing of these bits I have never seen a company officer who paid much, if any, attention to their comparative severity or to their different sizes or shapes: they are generally issued as they come, the men occasionally changing to suit their own fancy, without having an idea of what constitutes mildness or severity. I have never seen a horse I could not teach, on the mildest bit issued, to pass from the gallop to a halt by the weight of two fingers; and, believing that the adjusting of the bit to the horse's mouth depends more on the manner of handling than upon the bit itself, I am confident that a uniform bit might be adopted for the cavalry, which would answer all practical purposes.

The pattern I prefer is a plain brass-plated bit, with branches four and a half inches long below and one and a half inches above the fonceaux, and about half an inch wide, tapering a little towards the end; mouth-piece five inches between the branches, with curve an inch and a half high. Such a bit would be severe enough for any horse, and too severe for none,—would weigh about half as much as the present S pattern bit (the advantages of which, notwithstanding the theory of the "eye before and behind the line of the cheekpiece," I have never been able to discover), would be easily kept clean, and would save the Department no inconsiderable item.

The Curb-strap.—I prefer the curb-strap going around the horse's nose and crossing under the jaw, with a hook on either end to fasten in both branches of bit at eye of the

cheek-piece (such as issued to the 2d United States Cavalry). It would be well to have the part of the strap which rests on the cartilage of the horse's nose an inch wide, to prevent chafing. I think this strap will prevent the frequent mutilation of the under-jaw consequent upon the use of the ordinary strap upon green horses by inexperienced hands, and yet be equally effectual. The curb-chain is of little use, being lost or destroyed immediately after issue.

The Bridle.—In the bridle I have no alterations to suggest, other than that the reins be buckled instead of sewed to the bit, so that the bit may be more easily cleaned, and that all the mountings be brass. The watering-bridle should be dispensed with, being more frequently used to replace lost halter-shanks than for its legitimate purpose.

The Halter.—If the watering-bridle is dispensed with, the halter might be lightened and improved as follows: by doing away with the square rings, and making the nose-band and chin-strap of one piece, sewed to the cheek-pieces and halter-shank and passing through the hitching-strap ring, working loosely, so as to close on the horse's jaw if he pulls back. Brass mountings. This form of halter would prevent the horse from slipping it, and would prevent the shank from being stolen, as is often the case.

The Saddle.—The contract saddles, as now issued, marked on pommel-ornament 11, 11 1/2, and 12 inch seat, instead of Nos. 1, 2, and 3, are rendering a large number of horses unserviceable from sore backs; they are too full and bunchy where they touch the horse at arc of pommel and cantle, the pressure not being evenly distributed along the whole slope of the side bars; and the edges of the side bars are too abrupt and sharp, so that they are apt to chafe the rider. The girths are placed nearly an inch too far back, which causes the saddle to slip back. The quality of the leather, however, is better than that used upon the old saddles of the Alleghany Arsenal, which was soft, thick, and spongy.

The raw hides on trees soon wears out at the edges of pommel and cantle, and at the junction of cantle and side bars, the stitches being too small, so that they cut the hide through.

The stirrup-hoods, as they are now made, soon flatten to the stirrup, so that the trooper cannot insert his foot farther than the width of the stirrup, unless, as is frequently the case, his foot gets under the leather, so that the hand has to be used to extricate it.

The most serious objection to the blanket is that the men spread it on the ground to sleep on, get it full of dirt, and then put it on the horse. Even with a careful man it wrinkles and chafes the horse. It slips back easily, and is frequently lost.

The crupper and sweat-leathers are useless; and the surcingle is unnecessary.

I prefer the Jenifer to all other trees, never having met an officer who had used one, who did not agree with me in this. It is very much lighter than the McClellan tree, and has the single disadvantage of not packing well on the cantle, which might be easily remedied.

The cavalry saddle as I would have it would be a Jenifer tree, brass bound, without skirts, girths an inch farther forward than those on McClellan tree. Stirrup-hoods fastened inside, stirrup close underneath and all around. A felt cloth a full inch thick (instead of blanket) to reach an inch below the D ring and four inches back of saddle, to button by a small strap to a hook on the arc of cantle, with loops to buckle saddle-bags into. A spring hook in ring on left side of pommel, to fasten the sabre to the saddle when fighting on foot. Coatstraps with brass buckles. No breast-strap, no crupper, no surcingle, no sweatleathers. A saddle of this kind would last for years, would save much weight in wood and leather, the loss of many blankets and more horses, and, I think, give general satisfaction.

The Pistol.—I prefer Colt's navy size, N. M.: it is much lighter than the army size now in use, the ball is plenty large enough, and it will carry as far us any man can sight a pistol.

The Sabre.—One of the questions asked by the Ordnance Department was, 'Do you think the sabre a useful weapon for the cavalry soldier?" I have always been an enthusiast upon cavalry service, and have held that no troops, armed with any weapon, can resist the sabre in the hands of mounted men of nerve, or, rather, of what in bodies of men is equivalent to nerve, discipline; and I think that every cavalry soldier should be taught to feel and believe this. Deeming the thrust much more effectual than the cut, I think a straight blade preferable, as it is impossible to make an accurate thrust with the present curved blade. I also think every inch of length of blade, which can be carried handily by the trooper dismounted, an advantage. The pattern I prefer is, I believe, the English light cavalry sabre, straight blade thirty-seven (37) inches long, with steel cords on both sides of blade, reaching about twelve (12) inches from point and back of blade, sharpened about same distance from point. Major R. Williams, Adjutant-General's Department, has the best specimen I have seen.

Accoutrements.—The accoutrements are made of leather, much heavier than is necessary. I have never seen the leather parts of belts break; it is either the stitchings or mountings that give way first. The shoulder-strap from waist-belt is seldom used, and could be dispensed with.

I will here state that I deem every ounce of weight taken from the equipment of a cavalry soldier a matter of vital importance to both man and horse; and it will be seen by a review of the foregoing that I propose to take off no inconsiderable proportion of the weight of the whole equipment, namely:—

Half the weight of bit, 1
Whole weight of snaffle-bit and watering bridle,

Whole weight of iron square rings and bolt on halter,
"""saddle-skirts,
"""cruppers,
"""sweat-leathers,
"""surcingles,
"""shoulder-band from waist-belt.
Difference of weight between Jenifer and McClellan tree,
""""blanket and felt cloth,
""""army and navy size pistol.

Reduction of weight in saddle-bags and accoutrements. The whole of which would amount to about one-third of the weight of the whole equipment as now issued. The equipment as I would have it would be as follows:—

Bridle.—Pattern now issued by Ordnance Department, mountings brass, reins buckled instead of sewed to bit.

Bit.—Brass, with straight branches, a half-inch wide, tapering towards the rein-ring, four and a half inches long below and one and a half inches above the fonceaux; mouth-piece five inches between branches, with curve one and a half inches high; round slots for cheek-pieces.

Curb-strap.—To go around horse's nose, crossing under the jaw, and to hook in eye of branches for cheek-piece, with buckle to regulate severity.

Halter.—Brass mounted, nose-band and chin-strap of one piece, fastened to halter-shank and passing through the hitching-strap ring so as to close on horse's jaws when he pulls back.

Saddle.—Jenifer tree, brass bound, with spring hook to ring on left side of pommel for sabre when dismounted; no skirts; a felt cloth, a full inch thick, to reach an inch below D ring, and four inches back of saddle, with a strap to button it on pommel, and loops to button saddle-bags into; saddle-girths placed an inch farther forward than on McClellan saddle; brass buckles to coat-straps; stirrup-hoods fastened inside, stirrups close underneath and all around.

Pistol.—Navy size, new model.

Sabre.—English light cavalry pattern, blade straight, thirty-seven inches long, with medal cords on both sides reaching about twelve inches from point; back edge sharpened about same distance.

Accoutrements.—Same as now issued, but of lighter leather and smoother surface, without shoulder-strap from waist-belt. It seems to me that the advantages of such an equipment as the above over that now in use must be apparent to every cavalry officer. It weighs and would cost a third less. The
brass mountings are much more sightly, will not rust, and are easily kept clean; and I believe that the saving in horse-flesh from sore backs, caused by the present contract tree, would alone pay for the change. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOS. P. ASH,
Captain 5th United States Cavalry.
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Trooper
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Fri Jun 17, 2011 4:42 pm

Thank you for posting this interesting correspondence it will help inform my work on the 1833-1865 period.
Was any further reference made to the questionnaire or its result in the United States Service magazine?

I am very interested in Capt. Ash's description of the ideal sabre as being of a British design "... straight blade thirty-seven (37) inches long, with steel cords on both sides of blade, reaching about twelve (12) inches from point and back of blade...", as I just don't recognise it and don't understand the purpose of the steel cords :? Very intriguing.

Like you, I would be very interested to know where the completed questionnaires were filed by the Ordnance Department!
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Todd
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Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:12 pm

I'm impressed with the sheer amount of feedback on the utility of the 1859 McClellan horse equipments. This particular model was very likely one of the worst variants issued. The continued emphasis on brass fittings and reference to rust corroborates other accounts and post-war 'surveys' where the iron hardware was clearly a poor performer.

Insights into how equipment was actually used with halter leads ('shanks') being stolen/lost, watering bridles being salvaged to replace them, bit curb chains being commonly lost or destroyed, not to mention the criticism of knowledge of bitting being nearly non-existant (not a lot changes I guess! :D). Some observations are common, and further reinforce known issues - cruppers and sweat leathers useless wastes, surcingles not much better (breaststrap conversions not withstanding, RT). Stirrup hoods were just as crappy then as they are on the examples in museums now - making the common practice of cutting the fronts out understandable.

Very interesting is the note that contractor-made saddles had the size plates marked like all post-war saddles, and (apparently) arsenal-made saddles using the single number codes instead.

It would be interesting to find a wad of these letters to the Ordnance Dept, wouldn't it, Dusan? I've got a couple of circulars that I'm curious to find - references in later ones suggest they have a ton of info on quality control issues and (horrors of horrors to the pedantic Ordnance Manual reciters) actual alterations to the fabrication specifications.
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Sun Jun 19, 2011 2:13 pm

Interesting feedback. But, like, Dusan, I am also intrigued by Major Williams' English light cavalry sabre.The civil war cavalry may well have been using English cavalry 1821 and 1853 pattern swords but these had 35 and 1/2 ins long blades and slightly curved. Major Williams being an officer may well have had a special English sword made for himself?.

Yes...what are the cords?.
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Todd
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Sun Jun 19, 2011 4:42 pm

John M wrote:Interesting feedback. But, like, Dusan, I am also intrigued by Major Williams' English light cavalry sabre.The civil war cavalry may well have been using English cavalry 1821 and 1853 pattern swords but these had 35 and 1/2 ins long blades and slightly curved. Major Williams being an officer may well have had a special English sword made for himself?.

Yes...what are the cords?.
Gotta think it's this one - 1853. "Straight" being a relative term...

http://www.militaryheritage.com/images/ ... rd%201.JPG

cords = chords? Fullers perhaps?
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Mon Jun 20, 2011 10:06 am

For those who might be interested in who Capt Joseph P. Ash was and what happen to him go here http://crossedsabers.blogspot.com/2009/ ... p-ash.html
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