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CAVALRY

existence of level surfaces, perhaps of actual roads, but a very considerable degree of mechanical skill in those who designed and employed them. The whole of the classical and Oriental mythologies, together with the earliest monuments of Egypt, Assyria and India, are convincing on this point. Nowhere can we find a trace either of description or delineation of animals physically capable of carrying on their backs the armed men of the period. All the earliest allusions to the use of the horse in war either point directly to the employment as a draught animal, or where not specific, as in the description of the war-horse in Job, they would apply equally well to one harnessed to a chariot as to one ridden under the saddle.

The first trace of change is to be found, according to Prof. Wm. Ridgeway (Origin and Influence of the Thoroughbred Horse, p. 243), in an Egyptian relief showing Nubians mounted on horses of an entirely different breed, taller and more powerful than any which had gone before them. These horses appear to have come from the vicinity of Dongola, and the strain still survives in the Sudan. The breed is traced into Arabia, where only second-rate horses had been reared hitherto, and thence to different parts of Europe, where eventually centres of cavalry activity developed. The first detailed evidence of the existence of organized bodies of mounted men is to be found in Xenophon, whose instructions for the breaking, training and command of a squadron remain almost as a model for modern practice. Their tactical employment, however, seems still to have been relatively insignificant, for the horses were still far too small and too few to deliver a charge with sufficient momentum to break the heavy armed and disciplined hoplites. The strain of ancient battle was of an entirely different order to that of modern fighting. In the absence of projectiles of sufficient range and power to sweep a whole area, the fighting was entirely between the front ranks of the opposing forces. When a front rank fighter fell, his place was immediately taken by his comrade in the rear, who took up the individual combat, excited by his comrade’s fate but relatively fresh in mind and muscle. This process of feeding the fight from the rear could be protracted almost indefinitely. If then, as a consequence of a charge, a few mounted men did penetrate the ranks, they encountered such a crowd of well-protected and fresh swordsmen that they were soon pulled off their ponies and despatched. Now and again great leaders, Alexander, Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, for instance, succeeded in riding down their opponents, but in the main, and as against the Roman infantry in particular, mounted troops proved of very little service on the battlefield.

It was, however, otherwise in the sphere of strategy. There, information was of even greater importance, because harder to obtain, than it is nowadays, and the army which could push out its feelers to the greater distance, surround its enemy and intercept his communications, derived nearly the same advantages as it does at present. Hence both sides provided themselves with horsemen, and when these met, each in the performance of their several duties, charges of masses naturally ensued. This explains the value attaching in the old days to the possession of horse-flesh and the rapid spread of the relatively new Dongola or African strain over the then known world.

The primitive instinct of aboriginal man is to throw stones or other missiles for purposes of defence (apes will throw anything they can find, but they never use sticks); hence, as the Romans penetrated ever farther amongst the barbarian tribes, their horsemen in first line found ever-increasing need for protection against projectiles. But the greater the weight of armour carried, the greater the demands upon the endurance of the horse. Then, as the weight-carrying breed was expensive and, with the decay of the Roman Empire, corruption and peculation spread, a limit was soon placed on the multiplication of charging cavalry, and it became necessary to fall back on the indigenous pony, which could only carry a rider from place to place, not charge. Thus there was a gradual levelling down of the mounted arms, the heavy cavalry becoming too heavy to gallop and the light not good enough for united action. Against such opponents, the lighter and better mounted tribesmen of Asia found their task easy. They cut off the supplies of the marching infantry, filled up or destroyed the wells, &c., and thus demonstrated the strategic necessity of superior mobility.

With the decay of civilization discipline also disappeared, and, as discipline consists essentially in the spirit of self-sacrifice for the good of the community, its opposite, self-preservation, became the guiding principle. This in turn led to the increase of armour carried, and thence to the demand for heavier horses, and this demand working through several centuries led ultimately to the breeding of the great weight-carrying animals on whose existence that of medieval chivalry depended. These horses, however, being very costly and practically useless for general purposes, could only become the property of the wealthy, who were too independent to feel the need of combination, and preferred to live on the spoliation and taxation of the weak. This spoliation eventually impelled the weaker men to combine, and at first their combination took the form of the construction of fortified places, against which mounted men were powerless. On the other hand, expense put a limit to the area which fortifications could enclose, and this again limited the supplies for the garrison. Horsemen sweeping the country for miles around had no difficulty in feeding themselves, and the surrender of all beleaguered places through starvation was ultimately inevitable, unless food could be introduced from allied towns in the vicinity. It was of no use to introduce fighting men only into a place which primarily required food (cf. Lucknow, 1857) to protract its resistance. Hence some means had to be found to surround the supply-convoys with a physically impenetrable shield, and eighteen-foot pikes in the hands of powerful disciplined soldiers met the requirements. Against eight to ten ranks of such men the best cavalry in the world, relying only on their swords, were helpless, and for the time (towards the close of the 15th century) infantry remained masters of the field on the continent of Europe.

England meanwhile had developed on lines of her own. Thanks to her longbowmen and the military genius of her leaders, she might have retained indefinitely the command of the continent had it not been for the invention of gunpowder, which, though readily accepted by the English for sieges in France, proved the ultimate cause of their undoing. It was the French who developed the use of siege artillery most rapidly, and their cavalry were not slow to take the hint; unlike the longbow and the crossbow, the pistol could be used effectively from horseback, and presently the knights and their retainers, having the deepest purses, provided themselves with long pistols in addition to their lances and swords. These weapons sent a bullet through any armour which a foot-soldier could conveniently carry, or his commander afford, and if anything went wrong with their mechanism (which was complicated and uncertain) the speed of his horse soon carried the rider out of danger. A new form of attack against infantry, introduced by the French at Cerisoles, 1544, thus developed itself. A troop or squadron, formed in from twelve to sixteen ranks, trotted up to within pistol shot of the angle of the square to be attacked and halted; then each rank in succession cantered off man by man to the left, discharging his pistol at the square as he passed, and riding back to his place behind the column to reload. This could be prolonged indefinitely, and against such tactics the infantry were powerless. The stakes carried by English archers to check the direct charge of horsemen became useless, as did also chevaux de frise, though the latter (which originated in the 14th century) continued to be employed by the Austrians against the swiftly-charging Turks till the close of the 17th century. Thus it became necessary to devise some new impediment which, whilst remaining mobile, would also give cover and an advantage in the final hand-to-hand shock. The problem was solved in Bohemia, Poland and Moravia (Hussite wars, about 1420), where, distances being great and the country open, greater mobility and capacity in the convoys became essential. Great trains of wagons were placed in charge of an infantry escort, of which a part had become possessed of firearms, and these moved across country in as many as twelve parallel lines drilled to form laagers, as nowadays