Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

The U.S. Cavalry in WW1

The American cavalry was officially created by an Act of Congress in 1833, although at times prior to this there had been various irregular mounted formations in U.S. service. The American concept of cavalry differed from the European in that the American troopers were not trained or equipped for the same sorts of battle. By French of German standards they weren’t cavalry at all; they were mounted infantry (or rifles), intended to move about quickly on horseback but to engage the enemy dismounted.

In the latter part of the South African War (1899 – 1902), the British were pestered by the Afrikaner ‘Mounted Shooters’ who used American cavalry tactics, and the British responded by training their own units to fight in this way, including the Canadian and New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the Australian Light Horse.

In 1914 the U.S. Army (excluding National Guard) numbered 98,544 men, making up twenty regiments of infantry and seventeen of cavalry. Compared to the European powers, this was a very small force. Even the British, whose army was also small by comparison to their neighbors, had thirty-one regiments of cavalry. After 1914 the U.S. Army began to raise more cavalry regiments, not in anticipation of joining the European War but for Mexican Border service; in 1917 two of these nascent formations were converted to artillery and one to infantry.

When the U.S. declared war against Germany there were thirteen U.S. Cavalry regiments engaged in either guarding the Mexican border or chasing Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa around northern Mexico. Of the remaining four regiments, one was in the Philippines, one was in the Canal Zone, one was in Arizona keeping the peace in the Bisbee mines and one, the 2nd, was engaged in training two of the new regiments that were being raised by enlistment.

Although there were still some state cavalry units in 1917, during the reorganization of the National Guard these were all disbanded and their personnel transferred to other branches.

The planners of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) envisioned a limited role for their cavalry, having observed that most European units had been dismounted to serve as infantry. Accordingly, the AEF asked for only four cavalry regiments, and were allocated the 2nd, the 3rd, the 6th and the 15th.

When then-Maj. Gen. Pershing and his advance party arrived in France in June 1917, his personal detail included 31 troopers from the 2nd Cavalry, but the first whole regiment to arrive in France was the 3rd Cavalry, in November 1917. They were pulled away from the Mexican Border and assigned to operate three newly-created horse remount depots in France. The three squadrons were charged with the purchase of horses, mules and forage, the care, conditioning, and training of mounts before issue, the reconditioning of sick or injured animals and their subsequent re- issue.

K Troop 3rd  Cavalry was detached to serve as scouts, first in I Corps during the Aisne-Marne Offensive (18 July – 6 August 1918), and then served in III Corps on the Vesle Front (7-17 August), in the Oise-Aisne Offensive (18 August – 9 September), and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (14 September – 11 November).

The 6th Cavalry, recently released from Mexican service, arrived in France in March 1918 and was first assigned to remount depots and later to military police duty rounding up stragglers in the Meuse Argonne Offensive.

2nd Cavalry at St. Mihiel

The 2nd Cavalry was withdrawn from training and arrived in France in April 1918. They were also used to manage remount depots and as military police, but later Troops B, D, F, and H were formed into a provisional squadron, which served in the Aisne-Marne Offensive (18 July-6 August), and then in support of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions at Soissons (18 – 22 July), before rejoining the regiment. Small detachments of the 2nd Cavalry then served in the Oise-Aisne Offensive (8 August-11 September).

In the Battle of Saint-Mihiel (12 – 16 September) Troops A, B, C, D, F, G, and H fought under the command of Lt. Col. O.P.M. Hazzard, and at Vieville Troop F staged the only horse-mounted charge by the AEF in the war.

With no rest, the 2nd Cavalry was moved to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (26 September-11 November). From 26 September-2 October, spearheading the assault on the left flank, the 2nd fought a six-day running battle starting in Vauquois and winding through the woods nearby. The 2nd was cited for “…accomplishing their tasks with fearlessness, courage, and disregard for danger and hardship”.

Later the 2nd served with the main effort of the advance between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest. You can read more about the 2nd Cavalry here.

Lastly, the 15th Cavalry was also withdrawn from Mexican Border service and arrived in France in May 1918. However, the regiment was disbanded and the troopers were reassigned as infantry replacements.

You can read more about the 2nd Cavalry here. Elements of all of these regiments are serving on active duty today as either armored or air cavalry.

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and is affiliated with the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Salonika Campaign Society and the Gallipoli Association.


  1. Albert Marcantonio Jr.

    My grandfather Arc Angelo Marcantonio from Brooklyn NY was with the 2nd Calvary WWI. He was shipped over with the first (AEF) wave and finished his tour only to have his horse eaten by the French. The records show the US brought their own horses and took back to the US only 200 officer’s mounts. The E’s wanted theirs as well but were denied.
    He never talked about what happened at Muse Argonne. Does anyone remember him?

  2. David Deasey

    The comment about the British in the Boer War obscures the reality of that campaign with the implication that Britain had to train the mounted units from Canada Australia, NZ and elsewhere. The majority of these units arrived in theatre as formed units after the British Govt initially refusing their assistance. “We know that you probably have horsemen but whether they ride properly to our satisfaction is a horse of a different colour”. They were after all not cavalry in the British sense but mounted units modelled on what locals thought the US Cavalry would look like. Lord Roberts opened the floodgates against London’s wishes by claiming he might as well chase the wind as chase mounted Boers with infantry. So very little training from Britain but local training supplemented by field experience.
    It stood them well for World War 1 and trained several of the great mounted leaders of that War. Where they came into their own in that war was in Palestine, Egypt and Mesopotamia where Britain deployed up to six mounted divisions. The Desert Mounted Corps commanded by Lt Gen Sir Harry Chauvel, an Australian who commanded a regiment in the Boer War, usually had four Mounted divisions. ANZAC Mounted Division, Australian Mounted Division, 4th and 5th Indian Cavalry Divisions (1918 organisation).
    Chauvel commanded the spear head of the British Army 1916-18 and travelled from the sands of Sinai to the Turkish Border. His victory at Beersheba was heavily studied by the US Army Cavalry School during the 1920s
    In France mounted units were allocated at one per corps. Sometimes doing the humdrum Road control, prisoner escort etc but also undertook forward recon such as the 13 Australian Light Horse at Villers Bretonneux in April 1918, or following up a withdrawing enemy such as after Peronne/Mont St Quentin in September 1918. Unfortunately the US II Corps under command of the British Fourth Army had no mounted unit and British and Australian units filled the bill (20th Hussars and 13 ALH)

  3. Swanson Carla

    My grandfather was in the Cavalry around 1914. He was a horse trainer.

  4. Chris Robinson

    My grandfathers brother John Robert Manegold born 1890 died 1971, was in the US Calvary. Does anyone have any information on him.

  5. Donald Elie

    My grandfather served in us cavalry from 1914 to 1918. His name was George V Elie where would you go to find out what regiment he served in

    • James Patton

      The best place to start would be the US Cavalry Museum at 205 Henry Ave, Fort Riley, KS 66442
      Phone: (785) 239-2737. Unfortunately his service record was probably lost in the National Personnel Center fire of 1972.

      • Donald Elie

        Thank you sir I’ll do that

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