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Cavalry Corps (Union Army)

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Title: Cavalry Corps (Union Army)  
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Subject: Union Army, Union Army corps, Augustus Pleasonton, George Stoneman, Philip Sheridan
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Cavalry Corps (Union Army)

Two corps of the Union Army were called Cavalry Corps during the American Civil War. One served with the Army of the Potomac; the other served in the various armies of the West.


  • Overview 1
  • Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac 2
    • Chancellorsville 2.1
    • Gettysburg 2.2
    • 1864 2.3
    • End of the war 2.4
  • Western Cavalry Corps 3
  • External links 4


In contrast to the Benjamin Grierson, and John Buford among them, distinguished themselves in a positive way in the first two years of the war.

Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac

After the disastrous Spencer repeating rifles, giving them an advantage in firepower over the Confederates.


Despite Hooker's organizational changes, the new Cavalry Corps gave a poor accounting of itself during the Chancellorsville Campaign. Hooker ordered Stoneman to launch a diversionary raid against Richmond to distract Stuart's cavalry, but the raid was unsuccessful, resulting in the debacle at Kelly's Ford—an indecisive battle that forced the raid's premature abortion. Worse, Hooker kept only a single division—under Alfred Pleasonton—with the main army to use as scouts or screens while traveling through the dense "Wilderness," accounting in part for the success of Stonewall Jackson's famous flank march on May 2.


Stoneman and division commander William W. Averell were sacked after Chancellorsville, and replaced, respectively, by Alfred Pleasonton and David McM. Gregg.

During the early stages of the Elon J. Farnsworth.

Later in the campaign, Judson Kilpatrick's division, sent from the XXII Corps, joined up with the army. The cavalry divisions engaged Stuart in a number of fierce, hotly contested battles at Aldie, Middleburg, Upperville, Hanover, and several smaller engagements.

It was John Buford's cavalry division which touched off the Battle of Gettysburg itself, engaging the Confederate division of Henry Heth to prevent him from occupying Gettysburg on July 1. Buford's troopers played a major part in slowing Heth's initial advance, and, after being relieved by infantry, spent the rest of July 1 screening and scouting. His division was sent to guard the army's supply trains for the remainder of the battle, but the divisions of Gregg and Kilpatrick remained on the field. On July 3, concurrent with Pickett's Charge, Gregg's division (with Custer's brigade of Kilpatrick's division) engaged Stuart east of Gettysburg and checked repeated Confederate advances. However, on the same day south of Gettysburg, Kilpatrick ordered a futile charge by the brigade of Elon J. Farnsworth against Confederate positions on Big Round Top, resulting in Farnsworth's death and heavy casualties among his men.

The cavalry continued to perform aggressively in Virginia. In an irony, the last battle of the campaign, at Falling Waters, occurred between the remnants of Heth's and Buford's divisions.


If any doubts remained as to the Union cavalry's equality with its Southern counterparts, they were dispelled during Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign. The Cavalry Corps, now consisting of four divisions, was placed under command of the fiery Phillip Sheridan. In the early stages of the campaign, they engaged Stuart's cavalry in a series of ferocious, bloody battles, killing General Stuart at Yellow Tavern. Stuart's successor, Wade Hampton, proved to be an equally formidable foe at the battles of Haw's Shop, Old Church, Trevilian Station, and Battle of Saint Mary's Church. The Union cavalry spent most of the Petersburg Campaign trying to cut rail lines from Petersburg and Richmond. The bulk of the cavalry was sent under Sheridan to join the Army of the Shenandoah during Sheridan's campaign against Jubal Early in the summer of 1864 (see Valley Campaigns of 1864).

After Sheridan's highly successful campaign concluded, the cavalry corps—along with the rest of his army—returned to join the Army of the Potomac. For the next several months, they resumed their slow but steady snipping off of Confederate supply and communication lines.

End of the war

The most conspicuous part played by the cavalry during the closing days of the war occurred in the week of March 25–April 1, 1865, when Lee, in a series of bold but understrength and futile counterattacks, tried to break through the Union lines at Appomattox Court House. In the last battles fought in Virginia, it engaged Confederate cavalry in a desultory skirmish at Appomattox Station on April 8, and took part in a small skirmish the following day at the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse, which effectively concluded the war in Virginia.

Western Cavalry Corps

As in the East, the various Union commanders in the West generally used cavalry poorly during the first two years of the war; cavalry was again parcelled out to be attached to infantry corps as "shock troops" and scouts. Unlike in the East, where the cavalry proved itself the equal of its foes by the summer of 1863, the Union cavalry in the West struggled to identify an equal to Nathan B. Forrest, and were defeated in most of their major engagements. Benjamin Grierson's famous raid during the Vicksburg Campaign was an aberration and far from the norm.

The first attempt at a unified cavalry command occurred in late 1862/63, when George Crook commanded the divisions.

During the John B. Hood's invasion of Tennessee, taking part in the actions at Spring Hill and Murfreesboro.

In December 1864, just before the James H. Wilson. It performed decently at Nashville, but, as before, failed to distinguish itself to any real degree. Wilson led the corps in one of the final battles of the war April 16, 1865, at the Battle of Columbus, where, fighting dismounted against Forrest's troopers, they were able to defeat their enemy–the only time Federal cavalry defeated General Forrest.

The rest of the Union armies typically had no unified cavalry commands as such, other than a corps-sized command, under Pleasonton, that was briefly organized by the Department of Missouri to defend that state against Sterling Price's expedition in 1864.

External links

  • Cavalry Corps (Army of the Potomac) history
  • Cavalry Corps (Armies of the West) history
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