Cavalry Operations: It’s a raid!

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 11 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: The map has gone because I deleted my old Google account and I don’t have time to recreate it.]

One of the many problems with concentrating only on big battles is that it distracts attention from small-scale operations that were more common and can tell us interesting things about how war worked in practice. But studying small wars for their own sake can also obscure links with bigger issues. This post will try to explain why small cavalry raids happened and how they could affect operational decisions. (more…)

Cavalry Operations: A question of balance

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 9 October 2013]

In the previous post, we saw that having enough cavalry was vital for an army to be able to move safely. But how many is enough? (more…)

Cavalry Operations: Moving an army is difficult and dangerous

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:00 am, 7 October 2013]

[Edit May 2016: I no longer think these cavalry operations posts are the best thing I’ve written anywhere, but they are the best blog posts I’ve ever written. I was just sketching out a hypothesis here which still needs throroughly testing against evidence (which I’m going to do in my next project, especially if my current funding application is successful).]

At last I’ve written the series of posts on cavalry operations that I’ve been promising for a long time. There are lots of details I haven’t gone into, especially to do with geography and fodder, but the main point I’ll be trying to make is that the number of cavalry available has a big influence on where, how and whether armies can move. This series will be four posts, all about the First Civil War in England, mostly in the South. I’ll be concentrating on the Earl of Essex’s army because that’s the one I know best, it’s been under researched and often misunderstood, and its campaigns give some great examples of how important cavalry were. Along the way, I’ll keep challenging the myth that Essex’s cavalry were useless ‘decayed serving men and tapsters’. The basic facts of the movements of armies in the civil war aren’t disputed much, or at least I won’t be disputing them the way I have with the received wisdom about tactics. I’m mostly relying on Wanklyn and Jones for these facts, and a few other secondary works for more details of certain campaigns. These posts will try to explain why armies moved the way that they did, and how cavalry or lack of it could limit their options. A lot of this is hypothetical and can’t be strongly proved using the traditional method of picking anecdotes from narrative sources (but what can?), but it works for me. (more…)

Cavalry Generals: Cromwell and Balfour

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 5:54 pm, 29 August 2008]

The 350th anniversary of the death of Oliver Cromwell is coming up soon (even if you’re pedantic enough to commemorate it on 3rd September Old Style it’s not that far off!) so Ted Vallance is organizing a one-off Cromwell themed blog carnival. It’s probably no surprise that I’ve decided to look at Cromwell’s early career as a cavalry officer in the First Civil War. Cromwell is more famous for becoming commander of the New Model Army, and then Lord Protector. Although these things didn’t happen until much later they have seriously skewed perceptions of Cromwell’s military career from 1642-46. For a long time there was a strong Whiggish tendency to look for signs of future greatness in his earlier actions (much as I love C. H. Firth he was one of the major offenders here). This hasn’t been helped by Cromwell’s own self-mythologizing or parliamentarian/Independent propaganda in the Thomason Tracts. I’m going to try to disregard all that and compare Cromwell as a cavalry commander with one of his contemporaries, Sir William Balfour. By 1644 Cromwell and Balfour had similar rank and responsibilities, but Balfour didn’t go on to be Lord Protector and so has been largely forgotten.

[I wrote this off the top of my head and never got round to checking all the facts or putting in references. It doesn’t matter too much because it’s mostly just about my personal opinion, but be aware that some of it might be wrong. The best source for Balfour is Edward Furgol’s article in the DNB]

(more…)

Book Review: Malcolm Wanklyn – Decisive Battles of the English Civil War

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 5:18 pm, 6 December 2007]

[Edit May 2016: See, it’s not just me. Even Malcolm Wanklyn had a postmodern phase. His review of my book in Renaissance Quarterly suggests that he’s well and truly over it.]

Malcolm Wanklyn, Decisive Battles of the English Civil War, (Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2006); ISBN: 1844154548.

I’m just going to get straight to the point: this is the best book ever written about English Civil War battles. I’m not being sarcastic or damning it with faint praise. It really is that good. Wanklyn argues that previous methodology of battle reconstruction is inadequate, that familiar sources need to be reassessed, and that we really know far less than we thought we did about what really happened.

(more…)

Cavalry Charges: Rallying

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:21 pm, 19 December 2006]

Previously in cavalry charges: I got as far as what happened when cavalry charged each other. In the English Civil War the two most common outcomes were: one side or the other ran away before they got near each other; or they stopped and fought hand to hand. Hand to hand combat usually resulted in one side giving up and running away sooner or later. This post is about what happened after one side had started running away.

(more…)

Cavalry Charges: Practice

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 9:08 pm, 15 December 2006]

[This is a very old post. It has been superseded by more recent posts, and by the following article: Gavin Robinson, “Equine Battering Rams? A Reassessment of Cavalry Charges in the English Civil War,” The Journal of Military History 75 #3 (July 2011): 719-731.]

In the previous posts I discussed the historiography and theory of cavalry charges in the English Civil War. Now I’m going to try to get at what really happened. What did cavalry try to do in practice? How successful was it? How did it work, or why didn’t it work?

(Warning: this one is even longer than yesterday’s.)

(more…)