The Last Cavalry Horses

After serving the U.S. Army from 1776, when Gen. George Washington established a mounted force, to the middle of the 20th century, the cavalry horse at last was retired from service. Mechanization of the Cavalry arm of the U.S. Army (and other services) was near total, the horse had no operational role. Only ceremonial horses, used primarily for military funerals, remained on active duty. Some posts retained horses for sport, remembrance, special events, or reenactment but the esteemed Cavalry horse was gone.

Mounted bugler of G troop, 10th Cavalry Brigade, Fort Riley, KS, April 1942
Mounted bugler of G troop, 10th Cavalry Brigade, Fort Riley, KS, April 1942.

See also:

  • The Last Field Artillery Horses
  • The Last U.S. Military Pack Animals

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The End of the U.S. Horse Cavalry

Troops of the 9th Cavalry pass in review at the Regiment's new home in rebuilt Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, KS, 28 May 1941
Troops of the 9th Cavalry pass in review at the Regiment's new home in rebuilt Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, KS, 28 May 1941.

The horse was deeply embedded in Army life. It took decades to wind down from full dependence on horses to almost none. There were many "last" events, beginning in the 1930s. On 14 December 1932, at Fort D.A. Russell, TX, the 1st Cavalry Regiment held a final mounted parade. After passing in review, the men dismounted and passed in review again, saluting their horses.

The horse named Louie, the oldest mount in the 1st Cavalry, was specially honored. Aged 34, he was too old to transfer to another post and would be destroyed. Troopers returned the other horses to the stables, but at sundown, in solemn ceremony, Louie went to his final resting place. A concrete marker bearing the 1st Cavalry Black Hawk insignia marks his grave. In 1991, an enormous horseshoe statue called Monument to the Last Horse, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, was erected on the site.

Later in December 1932, 1st Cavalry Regiment transferred to Ft. Knox, KY, arriving on 16 January 1933. On that date the 1st Cavalry Regiment, the oldest mounted regiment in the U.S. Army, became the Army's first mechanized unit.

As official doctrine accepted mechanization in the 1930s, the FM 2-series Cavalry field manuals were rewritten. The last version focused on horses was published in 1936. After that, the nature of Cavalry changed and the manuals depicted tactics for halftracks and armored cars, at first along with horses, and finally for motor vehicles alone.

The 26th Cavalry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts represented the last U.S Army horse cavalry unit to fight mounted. On the Bataan Peninsula, in the Philippines, the 26th Cavalry executed a charge against Japanese forces near the village of Morong on 16 January 1942, possibly the last U.S. cavalry charge. This is a controversial claim since the Scouts are not a regular U.S. unit and they functioned as mounted infantry, not cavalry. Withdrawing under Japanese pressure, the Scouts were eventually forced to destroy their horses and fight dismounted.

The last designated mounted cavalry camp constructed by the Army was Camp Lockett at Campo, San Diego County, CA, begun in 1941. 10th Cavalry, based at Lockett, patrolled the US-Mexico border, guarded dams, and provided security for the trains and communication systems. In addition, in late December of 1942, the 10th participated in war games against infantry; the horse mounted troops dominated. Some of the last horse-Cavalry forced marches took place at Camp Lockett.

The last West Point class to receive formal riding instruction was the January Class of 1943.

A detachment of the Fifth Army Provisional Mounted Reconnaissance Troop, Italy, 1943. See Military Horses and Mules During WW II
A detachment of the Fifth Army Provisional Mounted Reconnaissance Troop, Italy, 1943. See Military Horses and Mules During WW II.

Reconnaissance was the only mission remaining for mechanized cavalry after the creation of the Armored Force in 1940. Beginning in 1942, non-divisional cavalry regiments retired their horses and were transformed into mechanized reconnaissance units, although, the two cavalry divisions temporarily retained their horses. The 1st Cavalry Division eventually turned in their horses and deployed to the Pacific Theater, essentially operating as a light infantry division. In March 1944, the 9th, 10th, 27th and 28th Cavalry Regiments of 2nd Cavalry Division were sent to North Africa without horses or vehicles. Soon after arrival, all four regiments were inactivated and converted into service troops. This marked the end of the horse cavalry in the United States Army, replaced by mechanized units. Cavalry Branch was eventually merged with the armored units and renamed Armor Branch in 1950, recognized as "a continuation of the cavalry."

In 1945, in Austria, a mounted reconnaissance company of the 10th Mountain Division, while not designated as cavalry, conducted the last horse-mounted charge of any U.S. Army organization.

The last mounted cavalry units were the 127th and 129th Cavalry Squadrons, activated late in WW II and inactivated by 1947. Post-WW II, the Constabulary of the Germany occupation forces included the Horse Platoon, 16th Constabulary Squad, in Berlin (originally the Horse Platoon, 78th Cavalry Recon Troop, 78th Div.) The last active cavalry post was Ft Riley, KS, where the Cavalry School was inactivated on 31 October 1946, under Gen. Isaac D. White, the last Commandant. By 1947, all Army equine training and educational programs for mounted troops had ended.

The Remount Purchasing and Breeding Headquarters Offices were closed and the Army Horse Breeding Program was transferred to the Department of Agriculture by Act of Congress on 1 July l948, along with the Remount Depots, equipment and breeding stock. The Remount Program was liquidated by the Department of Agriculture the following year and all stocks sold at public auction.

On 20 Jan 1981, Ronald Reagan became the last US President with service as a horse cavalryman. He had been an Army Reserve Cavalryman in Troop B, 322nd Cavalry (1st Brigade, 66th Cavalry Div.) On 25 May 1937, Reagan was appointed a second lieutenant in the Officers' Reserve Corps of the Cavalry.

Chief, The Last U.S. Cavalry Horse

Chief, the last U.S. Army cavalry horse, was foaled in 1932. The Army purchased him in 1940 from a Nebraska rancher, at Ft. Robinson, NE. He arrived at his cavalry post, Ft. Riley, KS. on 3 April 1941, assigned to the 10th Cavalry and later the 9th Cavalry. In June 1942, Chief was transferred to the Cavalry School (also at Ft.Riley) where he rose to the rank of Advanced Cavalry Charger. Chief remained at the school after his 1949 semi-retirement until his 1958 full retirement.

During the 1950s and early 1960s the number of retired cavalry horses declined until only Chief was left. For years, Chief enjoyed his retirement days in a corral at the Ft. Riley Riding Club. Each year, Chief entertained hundreds of visitors, a living repreentative of the more than 6,000 horses who were kept on post at Ft. Riley during WW II, as well as all Army horses. Finally, on 24 May 1968, Chief died, to join the millions of faithful cavalry horses who served and died before him. A military funeral with full honors was held, attended by the Commanding General of the U.S. Army.

Chief is buried at Ft. Riley, at the foot of the Old Trooper Monument (modeled after the Cavalry soldier drawing "Old Bill" by Fredric Remington.) Chief is buried upright, encased in a marble vault, ready to ride again.

Recommended Books About Army Cavalry Horses

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