Article

Cavalry since 1500

Mark Gerges

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0028
Cavalry since 1500

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  • First World War
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Cavalry, one of the three principal combat branches, has long been known as “the combat arm of decision.” This view, of a horse-mounted cavalry soldier delivering a charge at a gallop and turning a battlefield victory into a rout, is the idealized view of supporters. The role of cavalry, and whether it could continue to play a role on a battlefield dominated by firearms, has been the central debate since the 16th century. After cavalry forces lost their unquestioned battlefield dominance during the medieval period, the next four centuries witnessed a reevaluation and readjustment of their role. Others refused to admit to these changes, arguing for an unaltered role. The heyday of the mounted arm’s effectiveness came during the Napoleonic era (1799–1815), when a general equality among the various branches allowed cavalry its last true measure of shock effect as its principal mission. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the successive improvements in firearms technology threatened cavalry’s continued relevance on the battlefield. This professional debate climaxed in the period prior to World War I, as the most powerful nations discussed the experiences of the Boer War and Russo-Japanese War. World War I witnessed limited use of cavalry in the major theater, but large-scale use of horse cavalry in secondary theaters provided evidence for the supporters of animal-powered cavalry. World War II was the final large-scale use of horse cavalry, but this was due more to necessity than to continued relevance on the battlefield. As a field, the study of cavalry has been looked at by two camps of writers—one looking at the flashing swords and tales of glory, and the other looking at the arm as an adjunct to the major armies. Few scholarly works discuss cavalry across the breath of the period or how cavalry dealt with the issues of modernization or societal change. Recently, the historical community has reawakened to the debates concerning the proper role and missions of cavalry. Beginning in the early 1990s, the examination of the phenomenon of military revolutions and reemergence of disciplined infantry as the dominant arm on the battlefield has led to a number of works looking into the changes this caused in the cavalry, not only in its role on the battlefield but also as the purview of society’s elites.

Article.  9819 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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