I’ve recently tried to explore on a couple of the discussion boards why the Union cavalry in the western theater was perceived to be led by the “second string”. I think there are several reasons for this, among them, the fact that the theater was (and continues to be) overshadowed by the war in the east and the fact that late in the war it was where unpopular and unsuccessful cavalry leaders were sent. I have a theory or two about this, but the thought that has been pestering me all day is a working definition of what differentiates a “first string” cavalryman from the “second string.”

With a few moments’ thought, I can easily come up with several examples of cavalry leaders that I would consider first string: Buford, Stuart, Hampton, David Gregg, and Minty, to name a few. So what is it that characterizes these leaders?

Here are a few items for my litmus test just off the top of my head, I’m sure we can come up with others.
1. Aggressively maintain contact with the enemy
2. Keep higher headquarters informed over time
3. Ability to “read the brown” when looking at maps and visualize terrain and how it affected movement (ex: use of gaps and passes during the retreat/pursuit from Gettysburg)
4. Willingness to fight for intelligence when necessary

The Union cavalry division commanders during the Gettysburg campaign are a good example, the corps commander (Pleasonton) not so much. Minty and Wilder at Chickamauga are others, though Wilder commanded mounted infantry not cavalry. I personally don’t think Sheridan is, primarily due to the Wilderness when he left his boss all but blind about the enemy to his immediate front.

I’m very curious about others’ thoughts on what made first string leaders, and who you think would make the team. There is no limit on numbers other than by qualification.

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