General Orders, No. 26 Cavalry Tactics
Headquarters Cavalry Division
Army Northern Virginia
July 30th, 1863
The major-general commanding has endeavored in vain, by oral injunctions, to correct the defects in the mode of fighting pursued by this division, but they have been so steadily on the increase that he is compelled to make their correction the subject of General Orders.
In preparation for action, skirmishers should always be quickly deployed, either mounted or dismounted, according to the nature of the ground; the cavalry column formed into distinct squadrons and regiments, with distinct intervals, which are indispensable; those squadrons in rear of the one engaged taking special care that any confusion which may occur in front shall not extend to them, and, above all, not permitting any retreat of those engaged to break their front, but remain firm and unbroken until ordered into action.
If a squadron engaged becomes broken, and compelled by overwhelming force to retire, its members will take care not to run through the ranks of those in the rear, but will move to the nearest rallying point without confusion, or precipitancy, or noise.
The column in advancing to the charge will move steadily up at a walk, taking the trot when about 200 yards from the enemy, the trot being slow and steady in front, each squadron keeping its formation distinct and well closed. The charge will be delivered against the enemy by squadrons, the gallop being taken when within 50 yards of the enemy’s front, and the gait increased instead of diminished as the enemy is neared, so as to give the greatest possible force to the shock against the enemy’s column, the rider sitting firmly in saddle, with his saber wide awake for the thrust. Too much importance cannot be given to the shock of the charge, the furious impact of horse against horse, for in that will consist the success of the charge. The enemy once broken, must be followed vigorously, the officers taking care not to allow the pursuit to lag on account of the accumulation of prisoners and plunder. Plundering in battle is strictly prohibited. The prevalent, a habit counseled by fear, of charging as soon as within a quarter of a mile of the foe, up to the range of pistolshot, and there halting to deliver fire, is highly injudicious and entirely destructive of success. The pistol should never be used in a charge, excepting when the enemy is beyond an impassible barrier near at hand, or by a man unhorsed in combat, in which latter case especially it may be made a most effective weapon.
Whenever practicable, an attack should be made on either or both flanks simultaneously with the front attack, but the latter should not be too much weakened for this purpose. All troops are tender about their flanks; and oftentimes, when a real flank attack is impracticable, a mere feint or demonstration pushed boldly toward the flank and rear will strike dismay into the enemy’s ranks. An attack of cavalry should be sudden, bold, and vigorous; to falter is to fail. The cavalry which arrives noiselessly but steadily near the enemy, and then, with one loud yell, leaps upon him without a note of warning, and giving him no time to form or consider anything but the immediate means of flight, pushing him vigorously every step with all the confidence of victory achieved, is true cavalry; while a body of men equally brave and patriotic, who halt at every picket and reconnoiter until the precious surprise is over, is not cavalry.
While rashness is a crime, boldness is not incompatible with caution, nay, is often the quintessence of prudence.
The position which the cavalry officers generally take in battle is a subject requiring immediate correction. Though highly creditable to their gallantry, it is highly derogatory to their discretion, and at direct variance with their duty. The following will be hereafter adhered to strictly:
A brigade, regiment, or squadron advancing in line of battle, will have the commander in front sufficiently far to supervise and control its movements; but in columns of squadrons, platoons, fours, or twos, the brigade commander must be in a position sufficiently central to keep his brigade well in hand, and make communications to his colonels easy and intelligible.
The regimental commander will preserve such a location in his column as shall be sufficiently central to control and supervise its movements and check any wavering by prompt support; to order his squadron commanders successively to the charge, and superintend their rallying and return to action. These duties will absorb all his energies and time, and will require the active assistance of the lieutenant-colonel, major, and regimental staff.
The squadron commander will lead his squadron, keeping it together, preserving in his own person coolness and self-possession, but the quickness of an eagle. He will be assisted by the second captain and lieutenants, all striving by precept and example to insure success, remembering that in victory alone is safety and honor. The squadron commander who hesitates to lead his men whenever ordered by his colonel, is a disgrace to his commission; and men who fail or falter in a charge led by their squadron chief, will not be lost sight of in the annals of infamy and disgrace.
Should the charge be repulsed, the skirmishers on the flanks will, instead of retiring with the column, direct a concentrated fire on the advancing column of the enemy, endeavoring to hold it in check till fresh troops move up.
The ambulance corps alone will be allowed to remove the wounded, and all will bear in mind that our first duty to our wounded is to win the victory.
Should any check or confusion occur, the utmost silence will be observed in the ranks, in order that the commands of officers may be distinctly heard and quickly executed. The commands given will be few and to the point.
The major-general commanding appeals not only to the officers but to the men of his division to observe the rules he has laid down for their guidance.
That individuality of action which so strongly, characterizes the conduct of our troops in battle, if unguided or misdirected, can but produce confusion. But let the same idea control the mind of every man, let them apply these general principles to the incidents of battle as they arise, and success is certain.
By command of Major General J.E.B. Stuart: