Thursday, January 5, 2012

Letters from the Front: Opinions on Light Horsemen

"...I am confident that since the Beginning of this campaign not one light horse man gave or got a trust or a Cutt of a sword."

One of the most under-represented types of soldiers present in the armies which fought in the American Revolution was the light horseman. In British terms, light horse was generally represented by light dragoons, men who originally fought on foot but rode to the battlefield on horses. By the latter half of the eighteenth century, dragoons more often than fought on horseback. Their "lightness" was reflected in their lack of armor and use of light sabers, in addition to their pistols and carbines. The dragoons were represented by two regiments, the 17th and the 16th (or Queens) Light Dragoons, the latter of which provided a special dismounted troop for service in America. The Royal Provincial Regiments would take the light horse a step further towards the ideal with the Queen's Rangers Hussars, who were armed primarily with sabers, and the British Legion Dragoons, who carried pistols and sabers. Both fought from horseback. On the opposite side of the field, the Americans struggled to form a competent cavalry corps. From the outset, the Continental Army had been a primarily infantry force, though some militia formations were mounted (though in the classic dragoon since, where they rode to battle but did not fight from horseback). For the Ten Crucial Days Campaign, for example, Washington had only the 50 mounted troopers of the Philadelphia Light Horse, which he used as his personal bodyguard. The Continental Army would come to raise several regiments of light dragoons, which included dismounted troops and legionary formations that appeared later in the war. At the crucial stage when Brigadier General Thomas Conway wrote the letter below, however, the American forces were still figuring out how to raise and employ mounted troops. In Colonel Armand's Legion, they would find an excellent example of the proper use of light horsemen. Our thanks to David Swain for the excellent transcript below.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 199
Thomas Conway to Robert Morris, Upper Dublin Camp, Pennsylvania, 9 Aug. 1777
Transcribed by David Swain October 2011

Upper Dublin Camp the 9th august 1777
            I think that the Demand of Coll. armand to have light horse to his corps should not be rejected. What light horse men we have in this army are of no use in military operations. they are merely employd as messengers or Waiters to general officers which is absolutely ridiculous. I am confident that since the Beginning of this campaign not one light horse man gave or got a trust or a Cutt of a sword if I am not very much mistaken this would not be the case with the light horse men which Coll. Armand Would Command
            I am sir
Your most obedt. humble servant T. Conway B. G."

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