Horses Worn To Mere Shadows

Horses Worn To Mere Shadows

Author
Robert N Watt
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
A well-researched book that certainly goes into a lot of detail. It is mainly about the 9th US Cavalry and its Indian campaign in New Mexico, Arizona and the Rio Grande, El Paso also plays a part. It is real US Cavalry romantic stuff.

The adversary was the Apache Indian tribe under their chief Victorio. The Apache was a fine warrior, a fine horsemen and obeyed certain macho instincts like not killing women and children if avoidable. They obeyed flags of truce and often arriving promptly at ‘parlays.’ They were hard riders who road fast and without a saddle. They were experts at rustling cattle and horses. They would cut telegraph wires and make it hard to find the cut by binding with wet rawhide thus the cut was difficult and almost impossible to find, thus cutting off certain forts and areas from communication. The Apaches were found on occasions to be more than 500 strong. They went to great lengths to recover their dead and wounded after a battle. Their battle tactics were to be admired in that they were experts at ‘skirmishing and setting up ambushes, also their reacting to ambushes was often successfully.

The US Government had allotted the Indian tribes ‘Reservations’ a reservation was allotted each tribe by name, the Apaches used the smaller reservations of tribes to collect and store food for them, they also used the smaller Reservations to act as places of rest for their tired or wounded warriors.

The system of ‘Reservations’ was that the whole of the Indian tribes were allotted certain areas to reside, they were deprived of their horses, which meant that they couldn’t hunt for food, food was provided by the US Government using a system of ‘Traders operating from Trading posts; a sort of ‘Benefit system’ that deprived the proud Indians of any dignity and a lack of purpose in life generally.

The 9th Cavalry operated with 12 companies, each needed its own logistics for mules and Horses. Feeding the animals was a big problem in itself while operating way out in the wilderness. To feed and clothe and to arm the 9th was another difficult logistic problem, as the Apache was expert at raiding, there is one episode of them stealing thirty cases of Winchester Rifles and all the ammunition required for use with the rifles. The 9th also had some problems with its soldiers deserting. There is some very un-PC remarks like one Cav Lt Col wrote to HQ and informed; ‘Send me no more Negro soldiers, they are quite worse than useless.’

The US Army enlisted Apache scouts that worked on horseback in pairs, the Apache tribe were ruthless when they captured these scouts, it struck me that the Army should have done what the British Army did with the Gurkhas and form the Apache’s into US Army units, they already had a built-in rank structure. Too late now of course!

Some Mexicans were approached over the River Grande to be enlisted into the US Army, the macho Mexicans refused on grounds that they would not serve with the Negro soldiers, who were few in number in Cavalry units.

There are some ‘post mortem’ reports on soldiers written by the assistant surgeons; I.E. ‘The bullet entered under the nose and exited behind the right ear, death was instant’ it is all quite a detailed read with some enjoyable parts and others that are a bit of a ‘flog’ to get through.

The administration and of care of Horses was as if they were, ‘Tanks’ in the Desert, without horses the Cavalry was ineffective. Terrain was very hard on the horses and at any one time in the campaign there was twice as many soldiers as there were horses available. This made travel very difficult in what was a ‘needle in the Haystack’ campaign.

Operations are explained down to section level, the cavalry moved about Forts and operated from them, the forts were not always as we would imagine them from old cowboy films, often the were no bigger than very large sangers and sometimes without roofs. Other forts were large and held one or two whole companies and a complete ‘Commissariat’ with accommodation and medical care, but often they were mostly basic and used for ‘secure staging posts’.

The Cavalry unit monthly ‘returns’ are interesting and very detailed. For example I quote one here: Losses in the recent engagement was: Two saddles, two bridles, one rifle, one rifle cleaning rod. One cartridge extractor.

There was a lot of infighting between higher ranking officers, I liked this expression of a General in correcting a Lt Col of the 10th Cavalry; ‘I know well of your propensity for Belligerence, please try to contain it on this very important forthcoming operation”.

Victorio was eventually killed in Oct 1880. A fine warrior: His saying was: Every struggle strengthens us, It is not good for warriors, to have an easy life, It makes warriors inefficient, and they will cease the struggle, warriors need a series of defeats in order to develop strength to face struggle.

Cost of the three year campaign was $45, 850.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in the US Cavalry or in the Indian wars of the 1880s.

I award the book 4.5 stars.

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