The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War: A History
by Joseph D. Collea Jr., McFarland, 2010, $45
The exploits of the 1st Vermont Volunteer Cavalry, the Green Mountain State’s only mounted unit during the war, follow to a great extent the fall and rise of the U.S. Army’s entire cavalry arm. The unit, formed with both men and Morgan horses bred in Vermont, got its start in early 1862 when it matched wits with Colonel Turner Ashby in the Shenandoah Valley, only to be driven out, along with Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks, by the brilliant “Stonewall” Jackson. Then, in the winter and spring of 1863, the regiment was repeatedly outfoxed by John S. Mosby’s raiders, but those bitter lessons finally began to bear fruit under better senior leadership by the opening of the Gettysburg Campaign. The regiment—temporarily attached to George Custer’s brigade—also helped Phil Sheridan inflict a fatal defeat on J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern in May 1864.
The 1st fully came into its own as part of Custer’s 3rd Division in the Shenandoah Valley that fall, playing a big role in Sheridan’s notorious “Burning.” Given the regiment’s long and varied career, The First Vermont Cavalry in the Civil War is a somewhat overdue addition to McFarland’s series of unit histories. But it is also a valuable case study on how a good body of soldiers can fail or succeed, depending on the combination of experience and leadership.
Originally published in the July 2010 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.