Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How Do You Determine "Best"?

A new friend recently observed to me that he thought the 4th US Cavalry was the best regular cavalry regiment in the Civil War, then offered proof to support his position. I must admit that I initially dismissed the idea, not because of which regiment it was or because he didn't make his case, but from the idea that any of them could be the best. Then I started thinking, and it all went downhill from there.

Is there a way to determine which one was best? There is, of course, no way to prove so definitively, but how strong of a case can be made for a given regiment? In order to do so, there have to be some measurable criteria used to evaluate each regiment. Things specific to each regiment, yet common to all. The purpose of this entry is to attempt to determine what those criteria might be, then to apply them over the next several posts.

Initially, I think the following criteria could be used. Which ones should be used is open for discussion, and if anyone can think of any others, I'm certainly interested in hearing your opinion.

1. Number of engagements. They should come from one source for all of the regiments, so Dyer's Compendium appears to be a good source. We may need an additional qualification of 'engagements' here, though. The 4th, for example, would get credit for all of the Peninsula campaign, when all the companies did was serve as McClellan's HQ escort. The same would be true for the 6th during Trevillian Station and other 1864 battles.

2. Casualties. This is a little tricky, as an argument could be made that lots of casualties don't indicate good leadership. I think for our purposes here, however, we can use them as an indicator of the quantity and difficulty of a regiment's campaigning during the war. Fox is probably as good a common source as any.

3. Number of general officers selected from the regiment. This one also could be problematical, as once the officers were promoted, the were no longer serving with the regiment. An argument could be made that it indicated the quality of a regiment's leadership.

4. Number of volunteer regiment commanders selected from the regiment. Same argument as above.

What other criteria can we use? This is simply an initial lsit, but I'd like to try to soldify it by Friday. I'm not sure if the 4th Cavalry is at an advantage or disadvantage by serving out west away from most of the other regiments. By any criteria, I don't think the 3rd Cavalry can win, but we'll see. It may turn out that we're comparing apples and oranges, but it'll be an interesting mental exercise.


Anonymous said...

How about comparing the numbers of MOH's awarded or the number of times that the regiment was complimented in dispatches by higher level commanders or anyone of the Confederate side?

I'm reading your recommended "Common Soldier, Uncommon War" by Sidney Morris Davis and it is terrific--a must read for anyone interested in the cavalry in the east in the CW. Thanks again for suggesting it.

Larry F.

Don said...


Medals of Honor won by the regiment is a pretty good idea, as it should be reasonably fair across the board.

I'm not sure complimented in dispatches will work, as it really depends on the writing style of the person reporting. Some compliment everyone in every report (Wesley Merritt comes to mind here, among many others). Not only that, but I'd need a team of researchers to comb the entire OR to find them all.

I'm glad you're enjoying the Davis book, it's one of my favorites. I think it was Eric Wittenberg who initially tipped me off about it.