Cavalry

Winslow Homer. The War for the Union - Cavalry Charge, printed in  Harper's Weekly  5 July 1862

Winslow Homer. The War for the Union - Cavalry Charge, printed in Harper's Weekly 5 July 1862

There is that relationship between battle and horses that held up until the second world war, cavalry units converting to tank units after the first world war.  There are dreadful stories of horses requisitioned from all over Britain, family horses to milk float dobbins to percheron teams, for the Front, poor things.  Cavalry horses were supposedly a special kind, mythologised in War Horse, but were often just whatever horse was available that hadn't been killed in the previous battle.  One suspects PTSD for animals is not much considered, most of the references to PTSD are about the role of horses in rehabilitating PTSD veterans.  The BBC did a program on horses in WWI. It is tragic, their bravery.

Drawings and paintings of cavalry charges such as this one, just 6 years before the battle of Little Bighorn, differ greatly from the ledger drawings of the previous post.  Here it is all heroics and glory and a large number of blades swinging about in the air.  This wood etching by Winslow Homer for Harper's Weekly was the equivalent of the war photograph of today.  Of course being a drawing licence can be taken.  No blood gushes, it can only be imagined – all those sabres are landing somewhere.  Being a civil war, it was brother against brother; the 'enemy' was like you just wearing a different coloured jacket.  Does it have to happen?  

Some essential reading: James Meek reviews four books on the British Army in Afghanistan (London Review of Books, Vol. 36 No. 24 · 18 December 2014) – many things we did not hear: Basra was an underfunded defeat, the subsequent transfer to Afghanistan was both face-saving and under the aegis of the Americans, Helmand province where they were based had 150-year old active memories of the last British debacle on the Northwest Frontier, British performance was mostly defensive under near-constant fire from local groups.  This isn't quite how it was told sold to us.  I'm waiting for the equivalent analyses of the Canadian record in Khandahar. We didn't have the oppressive prestige of the British Army that had maintained the Empire and all that now-superseded stuff, but the situation in Khandahar province was most likely just as manipulated, just as treacherous.

Stephanie Whitedrawings, war