Mississippians in the Cavalry

The third major branch in which Mississippians served during the Civil War was the cavalry. The basic unit of organization for a cavalry unit was the regiment, which consisted of ten companies or squadrons, each with from 60 – 80 privates. A captain commanded each company and had under him two lieutenants. A colonel commanded the regiment, aided by a lieutenant colonel who was second in command and a major who was third in line to lead the unit.

Two of the primary jobs of Civil War cavalry were to serve as scouts and conduct hit and run raids against the enemy’s rear. As scouts the cavalry was constantly in the saddle, out in front of the army, acting as the eyes and ears of the commanding general, gathering intelligence on the enemy’s dispositions and intentions. At the same time they screened their own army to prevent the enemy’s cavalry from gathering the same type of intelligence. As raiders, the cavalry would try to strike where the enemy was weak and inflict as much damage as possible and fading away before they could react.

A third job for the cavalry manifested itself as the war went on – serving as mounted infantry. Rebel cavalry was widely used in this role from 1864 until the end of the war. There were several reasons for this: military reverses put the south on the defensive, thus limiting offensive uses for the cavalry. Also heavy infantry losses could only be made up by using cavalry to fill in the gaps. The ability to quickly reinforce an area under threat of Union attack made the cavalry invaluable as the war went on and the south had to cope with large Union armies with fewer men in the ranks to oppose them.

The vast majority of Mississippi cavalrymen served in the war’s western theater, a huge expanse of territory spanning the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Over 70 regiments or battalions of Mississippi cavalry served in this area, the lone exception being the Jeff Davis Legion of Cavalry that served in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lieutenant Colonel Franklin A. Montgomery of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry wrote in his memoir, "The busy and constant service of the cavalry, its innumerable fights, and constant loss of life, is rarely if ever mentioned." Photo from Reminiscences of a Mississippian in Peace and War (1901).

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