CONTINENTAL AND MILITIA CAVALRY COMPARED: A CASE STUDY FROM SARATOGA, 1777

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Pat Holscher
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JV Puleo
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An interesting article but I'm most impressed by the very small numbers involved. Whether Continental or Militia, mounted troops could have done little more than some scouting and carrying dispatches. There certainly couldn't have been an large mounted clashes. The British also had relatively few mounted troops though I suspect not as few as the Americans – there must be hard figures for their units somewhere.

I read somewhere that the terrain wasn't suitable for cavalry. I question that. Perhaps for large "cavalry battles" but certainly not for the traditional uses of gathering information and screening movements. I'm inclined to think it was more a matter of expense. Congress was barely able to keep the Continental Army in the field and, in the very last campaign - to Yorktown - might very well have lost it if the French hadn't intervened and literally paid the army...
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I somewhat wondered if available remounts also might help explain the small numbers. I.e., I wonder if horse numbers in North America didn't lend themselves to widespread military use, or perhaps attrition, and of importing horses from Europe, in the case of the British, may have presented too much of a problem for the British to want to attempt it on a mass scale.

I also really doubt the claims that the terrain wasn't suitable for cavalry.
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JV Puleo
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When the French arrived one of their units was Lauzun's Legion - a mounted unit equipped as Hussars. For lack of space they couldn't bring their horses so the entire unit - I think there were between 600 and 900 mounted men - was mounted here. It was billeted in Lebanon, Connecticut because there was a shortage of forage in Newport, RI where the remainder of the French army was.

At least two of the French officers make reference to the excellent horses bread in RI - All of the mounted French officers bought horses there...so suspect I was possible to mount a regiment. But, the French were paying in cash - silver & gold - for everything they needed. The Americans would have been paying in nearly worthless continental paper currency...I think this aspect of the question is frequently overlooked.

Support for the Revolution wasn't universal...the old saw was that 1/3 were for it, 1/3 against it and 1/3 didn't care. That alone, if largely true, suggests that apathy was commonplace and there was little incentive for breeders to effectively "donate" their horses....add to that the idea that the mounted man was supposed to supply his own horse and you have a situation where only those who were relatively affluent could serve in a mounted unit and it's no wonder that the Americans did so poorly raising them.
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Sort of to Joe's point regarding expense: aren't the logistics involved in maintaining horse soldiers more difficult and costly than for infantry- especially before mechanized transport?
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They must be. In every army mounted troops were more expensive to maintain than infantry. Where the Revolution is concerned, we have to add the complications brought on by quasi-state control of the units...yes, it was the "Continental Army" but the regiments were still affiliated with the various states. I don't presume to know where the lines of responsibility were drawn but I'd bet they were both complicated and ambiguous. Was it really a national army or rather a professional army composed of state units? Even in the Civil War, nearly 100 years later, Army commanders had to contend with state politicians, all of whom had their own agendas.

A funny aside...in 1861 the Governor of RI, William "Billy" Sprague, with no military experience at all, commissioned himself a Brigadier General and went off to Washington where he haunted the War Office and was a regular at all the fashionable night spots. He never got a command but proved a significant nuisance the the 1st RI which was already in camp there.
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