McClellan letter of proposal, 3 Oct 1856

Phila. October 3rd, 1856

Honorable Jefferson Davis,
Secretary of War,

Sir:

I have shown to several officers, passing through this city the Prussian Cavalry equipment; all agree that, with certain quite essential modifications, it would be a better equipment than any we have yet had in our service. The tree is that known as the Hungarian; I would remove all the unnecessary iron with which the Prussians have encumbered it, reduce the height of the cantle, and adopt very nearly “Nolan’s” tree.  [ note – see below for visual representations of these types ]  For my own regiment, armed with the revolvers, there need be no holster, for the men should follow the Russian system and always carry the pistol on the waist belt.

Instead of two pouches there would be but one,–just large enough to carry the necessary cleaning utensils, which would be made as small as possible, the currycomb with a movable handle.

The pouch would be balanced by a camp hatchet, slung on the other side of the pommel.

Instead of a valise there would be a pair of small saddle bags in the style of the Chasseurs d’Afrique, either of leather of gutta percha, and only large enough to contain the indispensable change of clothes, i.e., 1 shirt, 1 undershirt, 1 pair drawers, and 1 or 2 pairs of socks; and in case of necessity an extra pair of boots.

Instead of a forage bag there should be the “tente d’abri”–a piece of light cotton cloth, about 5 feet square, to be used as a shelter at night instead of a tent; this can very easily be arranged so that it can be used as a forage bag in case of necessity.

The stirrups to be of steel; the leathers passing through mortices in the side boards.

The girth either attached to the saddle flaps, or as in the Campbell saddle, to be of leather.

I would prefer dispensing with the saddle flaps, or to reinforce the pants with the soft pliable leather.

Use saddle blanket of felt cloth.

Bits of steel; the curb to hook to the cheek straps; the snaffle to be attached by a toggle.

Spurs to be screwed to the boot.

Sabre knot of plaited buckskin, or leather.

I have here given merely a hasty outline of the general nature of the equipment I propose, and would respectfully request to be authorized to have a model set made in this city, by one of the best saddlers, to presented for examination.

I would at the same time call the attention of the Secretary to the sabres furnished to our Cavalry; they are not what they ought to be, and I have never seen any make in this country that compare in weight and balance with the French model. I have a sabre, purchased in Paris, which is an entirely different weapon from our own–tho’ of the same model. Ours are too heavy and are badly balanced; so bad are they that many of our Cavalry officers are disposed to regard the sabre as a useless weapon. As this is without doubt the true weapon of Cavalry, too much pains cannot be bestowed upon its manufacture; it ought, if anything be lighter than the French model. A wooden, leather, or gutta percha scabbard would also present great advantages–as being much lighter than the steel one, allowing the sabre to be kept sharp (and if dull it is of but little more service than a broom handle), and preventing, to a very great degree, the noise attendant upon the movements of cavalry.

The pistol should be provided with a strap, attached either to the guard, or to a ring in the butt, that it may be dropped in an instant; I have personally experienced the evil effects of being obliged to return a pistol before using the sabre.

I am sir very respectfully ur. obdt. svt.
Geo. B. MCClellan,
Capt. 1st Cavalry.


First – the image from McClellan’s well-known ‘Crimean Report’ that shows the Hungarian tree he was referring to



Following is from Jean Roemer’s 1863 “Cavalry: Its History, Management, and Uses in War” (excellent resource), showing a Nolan tree and saddle:

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