Project Director

Russell, Mike

Department Examiner

Fulton, Robert; Ingle, Larry; Russell, Mike; Ward, James; Watson, Paul


Dept. of History


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


There is a commonly held opinion among some historians that cavalry, men fighting from horseback, were obsolete by the time of the American Civil War. The problem with this perception is the definition of obsolescence. While it is true that cavalry as a charging, frontline force was mostly ineffective, this was not the kind of cavalry used in that conflict on a large scale. Instead, a new kind of cavalry, the Mounted Rifles, was put into practice by some of the commanders, most notably one of the Confederacy's youngest cavalry generals, Joseph Wheeler. Wheeler's cavalry instead worked within an army, by far the more common role for that branch. This role has been frowned upon increasingly as time passes, mostly because it lacks the glamour of Forrest and Sheridan's independent wars. However, his cavalry was no less valuable. Attacking so large a body as the Army of the Cumberland with Forrest's tenacious tactics was not a viable option for Wheeler's forces. He could not function as they did, but his tactically modified cavalry performed just as well in other ways. The Mounted Rifles excelled at strategic warfare, though their value has largely been discredited by the brash styles of other cavalry commanders. Indeed, the exceptional cavalry styles of Sheridan and Forrest were appealing, but possible only in isolated cases. Its appeal has cast a shadow over the more widely effective forces of Joe Wheeler, the Mounted Rifles. Joe Wheeler was a recent West Point graduate when the war broke out, but he quickly became the Cavalry Commander of the Army of Tennessee. Wheeler recognized the need for a modification of cavalry tactics, and was one of the first to make the needed changes. He has been called everything from a hard fighting hero to a failure at command, though an accurate evaluation probably falls somewhere between. (To his credit, Robert E. Lee called him one of the two best cavalry commanders in the war.) By studying Wheeler and his use of cavalry in the Chattanooga area, his new tactics show how valuable cavalry could be for a large army.


B. A.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts.




Tennessee--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Cavalry operations; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories


Wheeler, Joseph, 1836-1906


Military History

Document Type



i, 73 leaves





Call Number

LB2369.5 .C677 1996