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565
CAVALRY

in South Africa. Again the cavalry proved helpless, and for nearly a century in central Europe the word “Wagenburg” (wagon-fortress) became synonymous with “army.” Then an unfortunate inspiration came to the wagon-men. A large gun was relatively cheaper to manufacture, and more effective than a small one. To keep their assailants at a distance, they mounted wall-pieces of about one-inch bore on their wagons. For a moment the balance inclined in their favour, but the cavalry were quick to see their advantage in this new idea, and they immediately followed suit. They, too, mounted guns on wheels, and, as their mobility gave them choice of position, they were able to concentrate their fire against any side of the laager, and again ultimate surrender was the only way out of the defenders’ dilemma.

The interesting problem thus raised was never finally solved, for the scene of action now shifted to western Europe, to the valley of the Po, and more particularly to the Netherlands, where fortresses were closer together and the clayey nature of the Rhine delta had already made paved roads necessary. Then, the Wagenburg being no longer needed for the short transits between one fortified town and another, the infantry reasserted themselves. Firearms having been much improved in the interval the spearmen (pikemen) had already (about 1515) learnt to protect themselves by musketeers trained to take advantage of cover and ground somewhat in the same fashion as the modern skirmisher. These musketeers kept light guns at a distance from their pikemen, but dared not venture far out, as their fire was altogether inadequate to stop a rush of horsemen; when the latter threatened to intervene, they had to run for safety to the squares of pikemen, whom they assisted in turn by keeping the cavalry beyond pistol range. Hence the horsemen had to fall back upon more powerful guns, and these, being slow and requiring more train, could be most economically protected by infantry (see also Artillery).

Thus about the close of the 16th century western armies differentiated themselves out into the still existing three types—cavalry, artillery and infantry. Moreover, each type was subdivided, the cavalry17th-
century
progress.
becoming heavy, medium and dragoons. At this period there was nothing to disturb the equilibrium of two contending forces except the characters of their respective leaders. The mercenary element had triumphed everywhere over the feudal levies. The moral qualities of all were on the same indifferent level, and battles in the open followed one recognized course. Neither army being able to outmarch the other, both drew up masses of pikes in parallel lines. The musketeers covered the deployment of the heavy guns on either side, the cavalry drew up on the wings and a strictly parallel fight ensued, for in the absence of a common cause for which men were willing to die, plunder was the ruling motive, and all control and discipline melted in the excitement of the contest.

It is to the growth of Protestantism that cavalry owes its next great forward leap. To sweep the battlefield, it was absolutely essential that men should be ready to subordinate selfish considerations to the triumph of their cause. The Roman Catholicism of the day gave many loopholes for the evasion of clear duty, but from these the reformed faith was free, and it is to the reawakened sense of duty that Gustavus Adolphus appealed. This alone rendered combination amongst his subordinate leaders possible, and on this power of combination all his victories depended. Other cavalry soldiers, once let loose in the charge, could never be trusted to return to the field, the prospective plunder of the enemy’s baggage being too strong a temptation; but the king’s men could be depended on, and once brought back in formed bodies, they rode over the enemy’s skirmishers and captured his batteries. Then the equilibrium of force was destroyed, and all arms combined made short work of the opposing infantry alone (Breitenfeld, 1631). But the Swedish king perished with his work half done, and matters reverted to their former condition until the appearance of Cromwell, another great leader capable of animating his men with the spirit of devotion, again rendered the cavalry arm supreme. The essence of his success lay in this, that his men were ready everywhere and always to lay down their lives for their common cause. Whether scouting 70 m. to the front of their army, or fighting dismounted to delay the enemy at defiles or to storm fortified strongholds, or charging home on the battlefield, their will power, focused on, and in turn dependent on, the personality of their great leader, dominated all human instincts of fear, rapacity or selfishness. It is true that they had not to ride against the modern rifle, but it is equally true that there was no quick-firing artillery to carry terror through the enemy’s army, and it was against masses of spearmen and musketeers, not then subjected to bursting shells or the lash of shrapnel and rifle bullets, that the final charges had always to be ridden home.

Each succeeding decade thereafter has seen a steady diminution in the ultimate power of resistance of the infantry, and a corresponding increase in the power of fire preparation at the disposal of the supreme leader; and the chances of cavalry have fluctuated with the genius of that leader in the employment of the means at his disposal, and the topographical conditions existing within each theatre of war. During the campaigns in Flanders, with its multiplicity of fortresses and clayey soil, cavalry rapidly degenerated into mounted infantry, throwing aside sword and lance-proof armour, and adopting long muskets and heavier ammunition. Presently they abandoned the charge at a gallop and reverted to an approach at the trot, and if (as at Blenheim) their influence proved decisive on the field of battle, this was because the conditions were common to both combatants, and the personal influence of “Corporal John,” as his soldiers called Marlborough, ensured greater steadiness and better co-operation.

When Frederick II. became king of Prussia (1740), he found his cavalry almost at the nadir of efficiency; even his cuirassiers drilled principally on foot. “They can manœuvre,” on foot, “with the Frederick
II.; reform
of the
Prussian
cavalry.
same precision as my grenadiers, but unfortunately they are equally slow.” His enemies the Austrians, thanks to their wars against the Turks who always charged at a gallop, had maintained greater dash and mobility, and at Mollwitz the Prussians only escaped disaster by the astounding rapidity of their infantry fire. In disgust the king then wrote, “Die Cavallerie is nicht einmal werth dasz sie der Teufel weck holet,” and he immediately set about their reform with his usual energy and thoroughness. Three years after Mollwitz, the result of his exertions was apparent in the greatly increased importance the arm acquired on the battlefield, and the charge of the Bayreuth dragoons at Hohenfriedberg (June 4, 1745), who with 1500 horses rode over and dispersed 20 Austrian battalions, bringing in 2500 prisoners and 67 colours, will always rank as one of the most brilliant feats in military history.[1] The following years of peace (1745–1756) were devoted to the methodical preparation of the cavalry to meet the requirements that Frederick’s methods of war would make upon them, and it is to this period that the student should devote special attention. From the very outbreak of the Seven Years’ War (1756) this training asserted its influence, and Rossbach (1757) and Zorndorf (1758) are the principal examples of what cavalry handled in masses can effect. At Rossbach General v. Seydlitz, at the head of 38 squadrons, practically began and ended the destruction of the French army, and at Zorndorf he saved the day for the Prussians by a series of the most brilliant charges, which successively destroyed the Russian right wing and centre. These battles so conclusively demonstrated the superiority of the Prussian cavalry that their enemies completely altered their tactical procedure. They now utilized their enormous numerical superiority by working in two separate armies, each almost as strong as the whole Prussian force. When the latter moved against either, the one threatened immediately threw up heavy entrenchments, against which cavalry were, of course, ineffective, whilst the other pursued its march. When Frederick, having more or less beaten his immediate opponent,

  1. The loss of the regiment was twenty-eight killed and sixty-six wounded.