Dragoons were US soldiers trained to fight on horseback and on foot. They used their horses to move them from place to place, not for fighting. Most, if not all, of their fighting was done dismounted. The name derives from their primary weapon, a carbine or short musket called the "dragon." By the time of the early wars of Frederick the Great "dragoon" came to mean medium cavalry. The term "to dragoon" dates from the early mounted infantry period. Dragoons were the most efficient and economical form of cavalry for police work and guerrilla warfare.
The Army has retrained thousands of soldiers, originally trained in other branches, such as armor, engineers, or artillery -- to conduct infantry operations in Iraq. Thus, in 2003 two tank companies from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment 1st Cavalry Division traded in their 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks for the Humvees. According to a Washington Post report of 24 October 2004, the Army terms these dismounted cavalry troops "dragoons" to differentiate them from regular infantry, even though they perform the same tasks. As of October 2004, they did not qualifies for the Combat Infantryman Badge, or CIB, which is awarded only to Infantry and Special Forces branch soldiers. The commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, requested a change in Army policy to allow non-infantry units in Iraq to receive the badge. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker formed an Army Staff task force on the issue, "because of the changing nature of combat" in Iraq.
At the time of the American Revolution, the term cavalry was applied to that branch of the military service whose members served and fought on horseback; the word horse was used about as often and meant essentially the same thing. By the eighteenth century specialization had developed sufficiently in cavalry to bring forth three distinctive types of mounted commands, varying in mission, armament, and weight of horses: the heavy cavalry, used primarily for shock effect in battle; the light cavalry, designed for reconnaissance, screening missions, and messenger service; and the dragoons, trained to fight both on foot and on horse. In actual practice, these distinctions were far from precise, and they tended to decrease in importance in the nineteenth century. In North America, the traditional cavalryman has ever been the light dragoon- a soldier trained and equipped to fight mounted or dismounted, to perform screening and reconnaissance, and to act as a scout or messenger. True heavy and true light horse have been rare.
General Washington's experience with cavalry in the summer campaign of 1776 led him to recommend the establishment of one or more mounted units in the Continental Army, and Congress on 12 December 1776 constituted a regiment of light dragoons and appointed Elisha Sheldon of Connecticut as its commander. During the winter and the spring of 1777 the Army began organizing four regiments: the 1st Continental Light Dragoons (Bland's Horse), the 2d Continental Light Dragoons (Sheldon's Horse), the 3d Continental Light Dragoons (Baylor's Horse), and the 4th Continental Light Dragoons (Moylan's Horse).
In 1780 Washington and Friedrich Wilhelm, Baron von Steuben, Inspector General of the Army, recommended that the four understrength cavalry regiments be converted to legions-organizations composed of both cavalry and infantry. To back up his recommendation, Washington cited the high cost of horses and forage and the need of mounted troops to work in conjunction with foot soldiers. Another factor influencing the organization of legions was the dragoons' limited firepower. The dragoons were armed with heavy sabers, flintlock pistols carried in saddle holsters, and, when they were available, carbines. The carbine of that period was a short-barreled, smoothbore shoulder arm. Because of the shortage of carbines, the dragoons lacked the protection of long-range firearms and thus were unable to defend their own camps during attacks. Infantrymen therefore had to be assigned to duty with the dragoons to protect them. Cavalry (and armor) throughout modern history have normally worked with infantry in battle. The legion as an organization thus seemed to be a logical solution to one of Washington's organizational problems.
Congress complied with Washington's recommendation on 21 October 1780, directing that a legion would consist of four troops of mounted dragoons and two companies of dismounted dragoons. The men of the dismounted companies were to be armed as light infantry. The legionary organization was retained to the end of the war. The rank of cornet was the lowest commissioned officer rank in the dragoons of the time. Cornet in the dragoons was the equivalent of ensign in the infantry. In 1799 both ranks were abolished in the Regular Army and replaced by that of second lieutenant. Cornet, as a rank, survives today in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry of the National Guard.
Other mounted organizations figured prominently in the war. In the south were the commands of Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, and Andrew Pickens. These partisan units were small organizations that operated independently and usually fought on foot, using their horses chiefly for transportation.
By 1808 war with England was again threatening, and Congress increased the Regular Army by eight regiments-one each of light dragoons, light artillery, and riflemen and five of infantry. The dragoon regiment of eight companies constituted the only cavalry in the Regular establishment until 1812, when a second regiment was authorized. The Regiment of Dragoons was disbanded on 15 June 1815, and for seventeen years the Regular establishment again had no cavalry.
On 2 March 1833 Congress authorized a regiment of dragoons. The new organization, the Regiment of United States Dragoons, was an answer to advocates of a mounted force as well as to the economy minded. It would be mounted for speed, yet trained and equipped to fight both mounted and dismounted. Congress on 23 May 1836 authorized the raising of 10,000 volunteers and a second regiment of dragoons. The volunteers could be either foot or mounted and the dragoon regiment was to be a duplicate of the regiment of dragoons already in the service. In the Florida war, the 2d Dragoons fought mounted less frequently than dismounted. The swamps, marshes, and rivers that separated the hummocks where the Indians had built their villages were almost impassable on foot, and the horse was often an encumbrance. At the end of the Seminole War, the Army was greatly reduced, and the dragoons were hit hard. Effective 4 March 1843, the 2d Dragoons were dismounted and reorganized as the Regiment of Riflemen. To turn dragoons into riflemen, only three major changes in the regimental organization actually took place: horses were eliminated, rifles replaced carbines, and the farriers and blacksmiths were discharged.
No sooner were the dragoons dismounted than agitation for remounting them began. It was argued that at least two mounted regiments should be stationed on the western frontier and maintained there in readiness for swift offensive action. If action were not needed, the mounted force should make a show of strength at least once a year by marching into the Indian country. In 1844, as a result of these arguments and pressure from the frontier states for a greater number of mounted Regulars in that area, Congress passed legislation to remount the riflemen and to restore to the regiment its original designation. Instead of moving to the western frontier, however, the 2d Dragoons joined Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor in Texas in 1845.
In 1846, after war with Mexico had begun, the mounted force was further increased. Legislation passed in May of that year to strengthen the entire Army included provision for a Regular regiment designated the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen was constituted to help establish a military road to the Oregon Territory. For a number of years the opening of the road, part of it through unexplored territory, had been discussed. Money was finally appropriated and a plan developed calling for forts from the Missouri to the Columbia. That there ought to be military protection for the project was evident, and for once a mounted force appeared to be the most economical solution.
In 1855 the mounted force grew by two regiments. This time the new organizations were called cavalry. The 1st and 2d Cavalry were constituted on 3 March 1855 not by an act expressly dealing with Army organization, but by an addition to an appropriations bill. The two regiments were organized in the same manner as existing horse regiments but, contrary to the Secretary's recommendation, General Orders prescribing their organization made them a distinct and separate arm. Thus, the mounted force consisted of dragoons, mounted riflemen, and cavalrymen.
The 1st and 2d Cavalry were provisionally armed and equipped with available weapons. The companies received various types of carbines, including a Springfield that was muzzle-loading, and the Merrill and the Perry, both of which loaded at the breech. Their pistols were Navy-pattern Colt revolvers and their sabers the Prussian type used by the dragoons. The dragoons remained armed with their Mexican War weapons- the Hall carbines, sabers, and horse pistols. The mounted riflemen had their Colt revolvers and percussion rifles, but they were not issued sabers. Although the rifles could be fired from horseback, the riflemen were expected to do most of their fighting dismounted.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the mounted forces in the Regular Army consisted of the five regiments mentioned, still bearing their different names -- dragoons, riflemen, and cavalry -- and still considered three distinct arms. Besides their different firearms and the number of privates per company, which varied from time to time, the regiments had uniforms that differed principally in the color of the trim, which in 1861 was orange for the dragoons, green for the riflemen, and yellow for the cavalry. The three arms also had distinctive insignia. The dragoons and cavalrymen wore crossed sabers and the riflemen "a trumpet perpendicular."
In 1861, the designation of dragoon and mounted rifleman disappeared, all becoming Cavalry with "yellow" as their colors. In August 1861 all six Regular horse regiments were redesignated cavalry and renumbered as the 1st through the 6th in order, according to their respective dates of organization. The dragoons and riflemen objected to giving up their distinctive names. The dragoons and riflemen also resisted the changes in their distinctive uniform trim; now all were expected to wear the yellow trimmings of the cavalry. Fortunately, from the dragoon and riflemen point of view, under an economy measure that permitted the use of the old uniforms until they were worn out, much orange and green trim was in evidence for a long time.
But the orange-trimmed [Tenne, or Dragoon Yellow] uniforms were eventually discarded, as was the term dragoon. The modern 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment retains the nickname "Second Dragoons".
The gold eight-pointed star was the insignia of the Dragoons until 1851. The Dragoon's Shako was worn as formal attire for guard duty and during military dress parades and other special occasions. At all other times a forage cap was worn.
In the British Empire the Light Dragoons were light cavalry raised primarily for the purpose of scouting and raiding. Mounted on fine, swift horses, they were able to move boldly to cause maximum disruption to the enemy and to provide the vital information needed by senior commanders to plan and fight their battles. The term dragoons continues in modern use in various countries to designate armored cavalry formations.
The Green Dragoon
The movie "The Patriot" centers on the activities of The Green Dragoon, Banastre Tarleton, who commanded a Loyalist unit, the British Legion. Banastre Tarleton entered Oxford with his elder brother in 1771, and he remained there until the death of his father in 1773. After two years of idling in gaming salons, he purchased a, cornetship in the 1st Regiment of Dragoon Guards. The post cost his mother £800. The choice of regiments indicates young Tarleton's character: cavalry represented the concepts of glory, courage, and chivalry that inhabited the aristocratic world to which he aspired-that of the knight in shining armor. In America, Tarleton distinguished himself almost immediately. Tarleton not only caught Cornwallis' eye, his success also led the patriotic citizenry of Liverpool to elect him captain of their volunteer company. Campaigning in New Jersey gave Tarleton greater notoriety after his horsemen cruelly subdued the rebellious population.
It was in the Waxhaws that Tarleton came to symbolize British cruelty in the Revolutionary War. There were numerous versions, however, of what actually happened in the Waxhaws. Traditionally, Tarleton was seen as a "butcher" when , it was said, America forces under Buford laid down their arms in an attempt to surrender yet the British continued their assault. From then on, his reputation grew and "Tarleton's quarter", in effect, came to mean "no quarter."
Upon the creation in August 1778 of a mixed light regiment of green-clad English, Scottish, and Loyalist volunteers, the officer selected to command it was Tarleton, now promoted to lieutenant colonel at the age of twenty-six. He could attribute his meteoric rise to feats of valor alone.
Charleston was the seat of South Carolina, and the colonists had unwisely concentrated 5,000 troops in the city against the seaborne threat. The British arrived with 6,000 troops on 11 February 1780, who were soon reinforced by 4,000 additional troops. The British isolated the defenders by land and sea and snipped their line of communications by sending Banastre Tarleton thirty miles up the Cooper River to crush a small band of American militia there. Over a month into the siege, the Americans surrendered the entire Continental establishment of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. This may have been the greatest blow to the American cause in the war. Tarleton, who had already proved himself to be an aggressive, ruthless, and decisive cavalry leader, chased down the rebels. Because the militia bands traveled light and were elusive, Tarleton's force was tailored to move faster than its opponents could run. The main component of his force was the Legion, an 800-man Loyalist force of light infantry and cavalry. In May 1780, Tarleton caught Colonel Abraham Buford's militia at Waxhaws and destroyed them, earning the frightening sobriquet "Bloody Tarleton." Lord Cornwallis was appointed to sweep away the remaining detachments of partisans, secure the loyalty of South Carolina, and plan a campaign into North Carolina. Cornwallis chased the remaining rebel bands, led by such heroes as Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter, into the swamps and backcountry. With the rebels on the run, long-suppressed Tories began to take their revenge. The rebellion in South Carolina, far from subsiding, became a vicious civil war.
As Tarleton hunted the ragtag Americans, he did not consider defeat a possibility. A report of the presence of American artillery -- the consequence of an American ruse in which logs were attached to wagon wheels and paraded in front of Colonel Ridgely's or Rugely's) Tory garrison on 28 November 1780 -- concerned him, but Cornwallis assured Tarleton that this information was incorrect. Tarleton's instincts told him to pursue as quickly as he could; his commander urged the same.
Major General Nathanael Greene, Gates' replacement after Camden, sent Brigadier General Daniel Morgan with a small body of regulars and militia into South Carolina to rally the patriot inhabitants. On 17 January 1781, Morgan met the infamous Tarleton and defeated him soundly in the Battle of the Cowpens. Tarleton finally found Morgan - or, more accurately, Morgan allowed himself to be found - at Hannah's Cowpens [a "cowpens" was a frontier pasturing ground], a location known well to locals and therefore an appropriate rallying point for militia speeding to Morgan's assistance. Within an hour, Cornwallis had lost the most effective and mobile force available to him. Morgan, with his experienced yet untrained militia with 300 hundred Colonial Army soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Eager Howard, engaged and defeated the stronger, better trained force of British Army regulars under Tarleton.
Morgan wanted two good volleys from the militia, who would then be free to ride away. The next day, the battle went very much as Morgan had planned. Georgia and North Carolina sharpshooters, in front of the main body of American militia, picked off British cavalrymen as they rode up the slight rise toward the Americans. Then the deadly fire of the main body of South and North Carolina militia forced Tarleton to commit his reserves. Seeing the militia withdrawing [as planned], the 17th Light Dragoons pursued, but were driven off by Morgan's cavalry. Meanwhile, the British infantry, who assumed that the Americans were fleeing, were hit by the main body of Continentals, Virginia militiamen, and a company of Georgians. At the battle's end they were aided by militia troops, who, instead of riding away as planned, attacked the 71st Highlanders, who were attempting to fight their way out of the American trap.
The Battle of the Cowpens was the second serious disaster which occurred to the British Army, operating in the Southern States, during the 1780-81 campaign. Victory provided the morale building catalyst needed to defeat the British at Yorktown nine months later.
Tarleton continued to fight on in later battles even with some amount of success, but the relationship with Cornwallis was strained after the British defeat at Cowpens. Posted across the river from Yorktown, he surrendered his forces about the same time as Cornwallis. In the tradition of the day, American officers hosted the defeated Cornwallis and other British officers at their respective tables. But no American invited Tarleton nor would any eat with him. Tarleton asked if the omission was accidental, and he was told that, indeed it was not, because of his past atrocities. Tarleton returned to England a hero and was eventually promoted to the rank of General. Back in Liverpool, he was elected to Parliament, knighted, and published his "A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America" in 1787.
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