How Much Do You Know About the History of the Cavalry?

By: John Miller

The "cavalry" generally refers to soldiers using which items of war?

For many centuries, people have used horses in war. "Cavalry" refers to units that rely on horses as a means of attack.

What was an example of the earliest cavalry?

Centuries ago, most horses were on the small side, too little to carry armed warriors. Instead, they were used to pull chariots and the soldiers riding them.

What was one of the biggest advantages of early cavalry?

While infantrymen plodded around on foot, mounted warriors were much, much faster. The element of speed made the cavalry a fantastic weapon.

Where did the first cavalry units emerge?

In central Asia, new methods of horse handling and bigger horses led to some of the earliest cavalry units. Eventually, warriors swung swords and spears while galloping right into battle.

Which innovation helped to popularize the concept of cavalry all over the world?

The stirrup made cavalry more possible for every army. Stirrups gave even average horse handlers better control in the midst of battle and made it easier for soldier to train on horseback.

Which famous military leader from history made incredible use of cavalry?

The Mongol hordes of central Asia were famous for their cavalries. And Genghis Khan was their master, leveraging the cavalry in building one of the biggest empires in history.

What’s a characteristic of "heavy" cavalry?

Throughout much of military history, armies put heavy armor on their horses. Thus protection against swords and arrows, the huge horses were a bit like living tanks.

Heavy cavalry was often used as a "shock tactic." What’s that?

Shielded by heavy leather, metal, or other tough surfaces, horses could charge directly into enemy lines as part of shock tactics. In doing so, they crushed resistance and created gaps that foot soldiers could penetrate.

What’s another big advantage of cavalry in battle?

Inertia — momentum — is a basic aspect of ground fighting. WIth their mass and speed, horses can literally smash through enemy lines.

What was the name for a very common cavalry tactic?

As horses became more and more effective in battle, cavalry charges became a feared aspect of warfare. A single well-timed cavalry charge could turn the tide of an entire fight.

What change in warfare caused the a slow decline in the use of cavalry?

Firearms, large and small, changed the course of warfare. Large rifles and cannons blasted through horses just as they did men and machines.

Cavalry gave rise to which aspect of European society?

In Europe, heavily armed cavalrymen became known as knights. Knighthood became a vital and entrenched part of society.

Which weapon did knights often use in battle?

Early mounted soldiers like knights relied heavily on weapons like lances. These long, piercing weapons gave cavalrymen reach and penetrating power.

With the advent of firearms, how did armies deploy cavalry?

Guns drastically reduced cavalry’s effectiveness. But many generals still used cavalry to harass, distract and confuse the enemy, all the better for infantry to exploit.

After guns became common, many generals used cavalry to chase retreating infantry. Why?

Even when guns proved to be deadly against cavalry, mounted soldiers were very valuable in chasing retreating enemies. Why? It discouraged them from thinking about returning to battle.

In what war did America first put the cavalry to good use?

Horses were absolutely critical even in America’s first war, the Revolution. Mounted troops struck at superior British armies and then fled, frustrating the redcoats to no end.

About how many cavalry soldiers were deployed during the First World War?

World War I was a war that found generals using antiquated tactics against incredible new weapons, like heavy machine guns. At the start of the war, about 350,000 cavalry troops readied themselves for battle.

What happened to most cavalrymen in World War I?

WWI centered around trench warfare and heavy machines — generals soon realized that cavalry had no chance. Instead, those men were ordered off their horses and sent forward as infantry.

What was one of the most important roles of cavalry units in the Civil War?

With their fleetness, horses were very valuable for transportation in the Civil War. As such, scouts used horses to spy on the enemy.

Which army made notable use of cavalry in World War II?

Soviet forces still had plenty of cavalry on hand during WWII. And the mighty German army used horses for many transportation roles.

What sort of role did cavalry have in the American Civil War?

Cavalry grabbed numerous headlines in the Civil War. But it was often for show — the incredible firepower of industrial weapons easily cut down cavalry.

“Sowars" were mounted warriors from which area?

In the area of India, mounted soldiers called "sowars" were an integral part of warfare. They were light cavalry, meant for high-speed attacks.

True or false, if you refer to the cavalry in today’s American military, are you discussing horse-mounted warriors?

False. Today’s American military still has cavalry ... but it’s the armored kind. These vehicles do perform some traditional cavalry roles, though, like scouting.

How did European lords use knights to their advantage in medieval times?

Medieval lords loved the power of cavalry and of knights. They hired knights to help them dominate their regions and thus keep their role as top dogs in society.

What weapon did Mongol cavalrymen use to great effect?

Mounted Mongol warriors were famed for their bow skills. They could gallop across the steppe and then unleash devastating volleys of arrows.

Traditionally, what’s a "dragoon"?

In the 1600 and 1700s, dragoons were soldiers who used horses for transportation. But they didn’t fight on horseback, they still fought on foot.

What was one primary drawback to horses used in medieval warfare?

No matter the era, horses required years of training. As such, they were costly investments for armies.

Which army led the last, biggest cavalry charge in modern history (1807)?

At the 1807 Battle of Eylau, Napoleon’s French army clashed with the Russians. The French hurled an enormous cavalry charge of 11,000 men at the enemy.

What was the result of the huge French cavalry charge at the Battle of Eylau?

At the Battle of Eylau, Napoleon desperately sent 11,000 cavalrymen in hopes of stopping the Russians. He bought his infantry just enough time to finally win the fight ... but he lost far too many men in the process, damaging his air of invincibility.

Modern militaries still use cavalry in limited situations. What’s one example?

In some places, like Afghanistan, the terrain is so remote and rugged that horses — not helicopters — are still the most effective way to fight.

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Image: US Army

About This Quiz

Since their earliest days, humans have resorted to physical violence to resolve their differences. Whether with stones, slingshots, arrows or grenades, they’ve always found a way to shed the blood of their opponents. But few innovations in warfare were quite so profound as the cavalry. With horses, men were suddenly imbued with new speed and power that altered the course of combat. In this quiz, what do you really know about the history of the cavalry?

Infantry — foot soldiers — are still perhaps the most fundamental aspect of wars. Without ground troops, armies can’t really control a battlefield. But when the first savvy riders first realized that horses could turn the tide of a battle, everything changed. Do you know which armies and leaders first realized the potential of the cavalry?

In movies, the cavalry is always good for a great scene or three. Who can forget the charge of the riders of Rohan in the Battle of Pelennor Field in "The Return of the King?"

Horses helped warlords seize and maintain their grip on lands all over the world. Then, slowly but surely, the age of the horse began to fade.

Quit your horsing around get to it. Saddle up for this cavalry quiz now!

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