Date of Award

5-2017

Document Type

Capstone-Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Program Name

Military History

Capstone Instructor

Dr. Jeffrey Leatherwood

Abstract

This thesis examines the effectiveness of mounted cavalry charges against infantry during the American Civil War. Shortly into the war, military leaders realized the impact of rifling on battlefield tactics. Armed with rifled muskets, infantry could engage a cavalry charge and break it up long before contact could be made. The cavalry charge, critics claimed, was dead. Yet cavalry continued to execute charges up to the last battle of the war. The cavalryman most associated with the charge is arguably General George Armstrong Custer. By examining Custer's Civil War record between July 1863 and April 1865, when he commanded cavalry units, I show the effectiveness of the charge in the face of rifled weapons. My research strategy uses qualitative methods focusing on four case studies: Third Winchester, Cedar Creek, Waynesboro, and Sailor’s Creek; data have come from official reports and personal memoirs, reminiscences, and journals. This thesis challenges two widely held positions. First, the rifled musket did not make all mounted cavalry charges "suicidal." Additionally, it separates Custer’s Civil War record from the Battle of the Little Bighorn which has negatively—and retroactively—stereotyped him for “charging first and asking questions later.”

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