Remounts, World War One.
We earlier posted this item entitled The Punitive Expedition and technology. A 20th Century Expedition.This went into some of the new technologies that were making their appearance in the expedition. So, it might seem now to reuse the same title, or recall the earlier one, as we start to delve into something we really should have before.
Jumping, 1920, Ft. Meyers Virginia.
Indeed, so much so, we should have covered this a long time ago. But it's actually such a big story, with so many facets, it's harder to do than it might at first appear. Indeed, the more you know about horses, the harder it is to actually do. I suppose a lot of topics work this way.
It is almost impossible to describe the significance of the horse to the military of 1914-1918, even before we consider the Punitive Expedition itself. Contrary to the widespread popular myth, the horse was very far from obsolete and World War One would not change that. Perhaps that's why dealing with the horse in the Punitive Expedition is so difficult as it isn't as if military horse use was unique, but it was the rule, and those who look into the topic are well aware of that. So, what seems perhaps an exceptional swan song, is in fact not.
Indeed, the British author of the multi volume series on the history of the British Cavalry found that he was forced to dedicate several volumes of his work to World War One, far more text than he was required to dedicate to any other British conflict. Every army in the Great War relied tremendously on horses and not only in the context of horses in draft used for artillery and material transport, but also in terms of cavalry, and even a bit for infantry. Indeed, it's arguable that the German defeat in 1918 came not because its fighting men were exhausted, although they were, but rather because they'd exhausted their supply of horses. In March 1918, during their final offensive, they were reduced to trying to use specialized infantry in the cavalry role, and it didn't work. The British expected the German cavalry to appear at any moment and overrun them, just as the large numbers of retained British cavalry would have done, and ultimately did do, to the Germans. The Germans no longer had them.
German lancer, World War One. It was men and horses like these that the Germans lacked in March 1918, to their tremendous detriment.
Its hardly surprising, given the context of the situation that the conflict with Mexican irregulars presented that cavalry would be the predominate arm of the U.S. Army in the Punitive Expedition. The country was open and the enemy, fully mounted, was highly mobile. Cavalry was the only arm capable of catching the Mexican raiders, and of course ultimately, it didn't. But it did remarkably well. Indeed, but for the interference of Mexican Constitutionalist forces, which themselves were also fighting Villa, the U.S. Army might very well have caught Villa, although it would have been frightfully deep in Mexico when that would have occurred.
Villa's Division del Norte, 1914.
The US sent five cavalry regiments into Mexico, organized into two cavalry brigades. The cavalry regiments were the 5th, 7th, 10th, 11th and 13th Cavalry. The 10th Cavalry was an all black regiment in the segregated Army of the day. The Army also sent two infantry regiments organized into a single brigade. Support artillery and engineering units also went with the infantry and cavalry. The Army's brand new 1st Aero Squadron, the only fully motorized unit in the U.S. Army, was also committed. Ultimately four infantry regiments would be committed, and two artillery regiments. The Apache Scouts were also sent. Horses were used in all of these units except for the 1st Aero Squadron.
10th Cavalry in Mexico.
The 5th Cavalry at Las Cruces stopping for a meal. Note the rolling kitchen. This troop had ridden 34 miles prior to this stop.
Indeed, this latter situation would prove to be the undoing of Pancho Villa. Villa, for all his odd peculiarities and strange character traits, was truly a great cavalry commander. He was, however, more of a mid 19th Century type of cavalrymen and adjusted poorly and slowly to wire and trench. It was wire and trench, in the end, that did him in, as the Mexican Constitutionalist forces began to deploy the same in the same way that the French, Germans, and English were in Europe. This shows, in spite of our romantic recollections of ti, that the war south of the border was a much more modern war than we care to remember.
And in that war, just as in World War One in the Desert, and on the Eastern Front, and occasionally on the Western Front, cavalry remained a very real factor. And it was particularly important in the Punitive Expedition which was, after all, a cavalry pursuit in pursuit of cavalry, with our cavalry supported by artillery, infantry, radio, telegraph and aircraft, and the Villistas supported by the native population. In the end, it was the native population that really made the difference.
The US Cavalry that entered Mexico in 1916 came at a time of significant transition for that arm in the American military. Nearly everything about the cavalry was in a period of transition, right down to the horses themselves.
Cavalry, and hence cavalry horses, had not been a feature of the Regular Army for as long as people tend to imagine. Cavalry had existed during the Revolutionary War, but Washington did not favor it and it decreased, rather than increased, as a US combat arm during the Revolution in spite of giving some solid performance during the war. During the War of 1812 American cavalry was to be found in the mustered state forces, not in the standing Regular Army. But as the nation pushed west the need for horse soldiers became too significant to ignore and cavalry was reestablished just prior to the Mexican War. Dragoons, a type of mounted infantry, and Mounted Rifles, true mounted infantry, were a feature of the American forces during that war, and in some ways they set the pattern for American cavalry, which always tended to be nearly mounted infantry, thereafter. The dragoons, as a category, yielded to being redesignated as cavalry just prior to the Civil War, and that war saw the only period of time in which US Cavalry was truly classic cavalry, rather than mounted infantry.
Following the Civil War cavalry entered what might be regarded as its golden age in some ways as it played such an important role in the American West. That role featured a lot of hard learned lessons and one of those lessons was that the US Cavalry was not ideally mounted for a frontier campaign. During the decades of the Indian Wars the Army came to incorporate more and more "range horses" which were hardly grade ponies raised in the western regions, although the Army also continued to acquire larger grade horse that were purchased by conformation rather than by breed. This situation continued on throughout the balance of the 19th Century.
As the Indian Wars closed, however, American cavalry officers began to be more and more attracted to the type of hot blooded horse favored by European cavalries. A debate broke out in the US Army about this, and whether the Army should start to look more towards horses like Thoroughbreds and Arabians rather than the range horses and big American horses that had carried it through the Frontier period. By the early 20th Century this debate had yielded towards a definite trend toward more hot blooded horses although by 1916 this had not yet produced a full scale remount program as it would soon after World War One.
Jumping demonstration, some time around World War One.
In the years leading up to World War One the U.S. Army still acquired horses largely by conformation, rather than breed, although Morgan brood stock had been donated to the Army for artillery horses and formed a bit of an exception. The United States was a major horse producing nation and this system worked to provide the horses needed by the cavalry branch of the Army and the National Guard although, even by this time, there were real concerns that the inroads made by automobiles were cutting into a reliable supply of saddle horses.
This concern wasn't just the U.S. Army's. The British Army, which relied upon imported horses for saddle mounts, also had this same concern. Indeed, the British determined during the early stages of the war to rely upon the United States more than Canada as it was worried that American horses would become denied to it if the US entered the war, in which case the Canadian horses would still be there. As it was, British remount agents, and French ones, combed the country looking for mounts and a horse boom ensued.
None of which kept the Army from having sufficient mounts for the Punitive Expedition and for the Guardsmen stationed along the border. A sufficient supply of big American horses existed such that each cavalryman had a mount.
The situation with officers differed a bit. It had long been the case that officers were expected to supply themselves with a horse but it was also the case that in the event of a campaign an officer could and usually did check out a public mount. So, officers drew saddle mounts from unit stocks for field usage. On occasion, however, they might use their own mount, or they might bring their own mount with them. Maj. Frank Tomkins, for example, who served throughout the Punitive Expedition used both a unit mount and his own Arab that he brought with him, switching back and forth between the two with the other used a s pack horse while he was not riding it.
As noted, cavalrymen had but one horse. If the horse became injured or disabled, or dead, he was afoot until he could be supplied with a replacement, if he could be. But there were far more horses than just cavalry horses in any military formation.
Horses were also present in infantry formations.
Company A, 6th Infantry, coming into camp with pack mules including what appears to be pack artillery. Note mounted men in the rear.
For one thing, officers rode in infantry formations, and not merely for convenience but by necessity. The same role that Jeeps would play in World War Two was played by the hose right up until that that war. Officers needed the ability to get quickly from one spot to another and therefore they needed to ride. As late as the start of the US involvement in World War One newly minted officers were required to buy their own tack (more on that below), with many actually opting for French patterns that were similar to the US ones they were required to buy. They were, obviously, required to know how to ride.
The conditions described above would also, of course, apply to an officers staff and to certain personnel whose role was to deliver messages. As we've already discussed in this series of topics on the Punitive Expedition other means of communications were rather unreliable, as opposed to a man on horseback (and as we'll see, a man on a motorcycle).
Machine gun troop in Mexico.
Artillery of all types was very dependent on the horse, going down, obviously, to the smallest pieces but also up to very large ones. Artillery tractors were just coming in, but they were truly tractors. While the US Army would experiment with, and use, heavy trucks during World War One for heavy guns, artillery remained nearly universally horse drawn for all but the heaviest guns in this era. Artillery, as we've noted, did go south of the border during the Punitive Expedition, although it seems to have seen little use.
Indeed, artillery is a bit of a remount exception in the US Army in this period, as the Army had acquired a Morgan farm or an interest in one at this time for a supply of remounts. That story is outside the context of this post, but starting in 1905 the Army had a direct supply of Morgans, unlike other types of horses. Morgans generally fit into a class of horse known at the time as a "chunk". Today we tend to think of horses being riding horses and draft horses, but that's quite inaccurate. Large draft horses were generally not favored for anything except very heavy draft work. Chunks, a more versatile smaller, but still stout horse, were favored for most hauling, including hauling artillery. The supply of chunks was declining in this time period due to the increase of motor vehicles in cities for hauling. The Army's acquisition, therefore, of a direct supply of Morgans was fortuitous, even if it did not supply every artillery horse in the U.S. Army.
C Battery, 4th Field Artillery, with pack howitzers, in Mexico.
Expedition headquarters site of Colona Dublan, 1916.
Soldier on the back of a horse in draft, New York National Guard mobilized for border duty.
Army wagons in foreground, Army truck in the background
In addition to the reliable wagon, thousands of pack mules were deployed south of the border.
The use of mules, we should note, is extremely interesting in that its really the last example of a long running US history of contract mules. The Army did have its own mule packers, to be sure, in the Quartermaster Corps. But in addition to Army packers, the Army made use of a lot of civilian packers. This had been the case throughout the Army's role on the Frontier and the use of civilians in Mexico was a logical extension of that. Quite a few Army posts in the West had packers who were more or less permanently contracted to the Army at that location, with huge strings of mules, and naturally they went along with the units that they were contracted to. The Punitive Expedition was the last time this would happen, however. When the Army deployed to France the following year the packers didn't go, or if they did, they went as soldiers. It wouldn't be until the war in Afghanistan until the US military would hire civilian packers again, and the use of substantial contractors in a transport role would not reappear until the second Gulf War.
All of which is to say that, while the Punitive Expedition did see the introduction of motorized transport, it remained very much a horse driven affair. But then all of the armies of the period were, and its perhaps only because of its cavalry focus, and the misunderstanding of the role of cavalry in World War One, that perhaps we conceive of it as a unique swan song. Indeed, if Pershing had his way, a large amount of American cavalry would have been deployed to France during the Great War, but shipping concerns prevented that from occurring.
So much for the horses, next we look at the tack.
For more information, check out the excellent Society of the Military Horse website. It's the source for information on everything military equine.