Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Largest Cavalry Charge of the War?

Mike Burleson asked a great question the other day, and I will confess that I've been unable to answer it.

"What was the name of the Western Theater battle which is called the largest cavalry charge of the war? I saw a documentary on the History Channel once, and can't recall the name. I'm thinking Confed General Sterling Price participated but not sure."

I've looked a good bit through my references, and I haven't been able to definitively identify the battle that Mike is referring to. From my readings, the largest cavalry charge of the war was during the Battle of Opequon (or Third Battle of Winchester), when two divisions of Union cavalry under Merritt and Averell crushed Early's left flank.

Admittedly, the Western Theater isn't one of my strong suits as yet. Perhaps Wilson's charge at the Battle of Selma? I thought most of his forces, though cavalry and mounted infantry, were dismounted during that fight.

I do know that there are some smart folks on the Western Theater who occasionally read this blog, however. Ladies and gentlemen?


Eric Wittenberg said...


There are a couple of good candidates. One, as you point out, is Mine Creek, in Kansas, during the Sterling Price Raid in October 1864.

Another would be the Battle of Shelbyville, TN, during the Tullahoma Campaign in June 1863.


DW@CWBA said...

He is almost certainly thinking of Mine Creek. I remember the History Channel program, and was pleasantly surprised they did one on a trans-Miss. cavalry action. If Mike isn't already aware of it, you might want to mention to him that Lumir Buresh wrote a great book about the battle and the retreat from Westport. The title is "October 25th and The Battle of Mine Creek".

Don said...

Thanks, gentlemen. Any idea on the size of the charge? I'm not familiar with the battle, but now am wondering whether it was the biggest in the western theater or the biggest of the war. Hard to picture a charge of more than two divisions, but Kansas would defeinitely be a good place for it.

I recall seeing reports from Halleck and the Cavalry Bureau from early 1865 stating that so much of the western armies were mounted that there was no possibility that the Bureau could provide remounts for them and the AotP to full capacity.

The book Drew mentions (which has now been added to my wishlist, to the lasting despair of my wife) is available on Amazon for $39.95 and Alibris for $40.

DW@CWBA said...

In an appendix, the author estimates the numbers involved regiment by regiment, and comes up with around 2,500 in a single mass for the big U.S. mounted charge.

I wish I had the hardcover edition (I have the 2000 pb reprint, which is still available from various places). As far as I know the later edition(s) are not revised.

Don said...

The ones that I found on Amazon were the 1977 hardcover edition, if that helps at all.

Mike Burleson said...

Thanks for all your help!

Don said...

Happy to help. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment!

RJ Samp said...

In an appendix, the author estimates the numbers involved regiment by regiment, and comes up with around 2,500 in a single mass for the big U.S. mounted charge.

The mounted charge at Marais des Cygnes in column of regiments that broke Fagan and Marmadukes line featured 4 of 9 available regiments. there were no 2,500 mounted troopers per brigade here..... numbers had been much dimished by stern chasing Shelby across Missouri and the recent battles at the Little and Big Blue Rivers.

See "The Story of a Cavalry Regiment" the 10thMO, 3rd Iowa, 4th Iowa and 1 more regiment made the charge.

Don said...


I'd agree they were depleted, I just haven't found a good OB for the battle yet. I'd like to find Opequon and Selma also. More to follow once I get to the bottom of this. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Anonymous said...

Benteen's Brigade (Winslow's until he was shot October 23, 1864) had 1100 mounted at Marais des Cygnes/Trading Post/Mine Creek. They were in column of Regiments, single rank formation (Cooke's tactics), armed with Spencer Carbines which doubled as Revolvers. The weight saved by not carrying revolvers was used to carry more carbine tubes/cartridges.

10th Missouri was first, but the 4th Iowa went first around their left flank and through the 10th MO. the 3rd Iowa and the 4th Regiment (10thIN / 4th MO combined) went last. AFTER Marmaduke's and Fagan's line was broken THEN Phillip's brigade charged (they were also in a column of regiment's). Phillip's brigade easily had 1500 troopers in it.....which would have put the combined Provisional Cavalry Division strength at 2600 mounted troopers.

But again, this wasn't one big cavalry charge, with Phillip's entering the assault from much farther to the rear (and on the West side of the road) much later than Benteen, and after Fagan's troups had clearly been routed succesfully. So not 2500 troopers in one charge.

RJ Samp
(used to live in KCMO and trooped the battlefield there and further south quite regularly. Herman Hattaway was teaching at UMKC and gave a few lectures at the CWRT meetings.)

Don said...


Thanks for all of the details. I think it still counts, as long as there weren't ours between different parts of the charge.

RJSamp said...

3rd Winchester, Sept. 18, 1864. Custer and Merritt assaulted Mounted against the CSA left flank....including pressuring Patton's Brigade (George S Patton's grandfather!)....
7,000 Mounted in the charge... a about a thousand CSA cavalry and a thousand CSA infantry.

I know it's Eastern Theatre.....but it is in the Valley (if Atlanta is Western Theatre??) and it is a Cavalry Charge.

Battle of Westport reenactment is May 15-17th-ish 2008 down around 135th Street and the old Richards-Gebaur Air Force base in South South South KCMO. (if you thought that the 'new' soccer fields were in SOUTH KCMO, you haven't been to this preserve/park).

I'll be there: mounted and bugling in Blue as always.